(Refiles to fix headline)
* Alpha Bank offers to buy Emporiki from Credit Agricole
* Greek lenders eye Emporiki, Credit Agricole seeks way out
* Piraeus Bank ends effort to sell Egyptian subsidiary
* Postbank among next targets in privatisation drive-source
By Lefteris Papadimas and George Georgiopoulos
ATHENS, July 31 Greece's third largest lender
Alpha Bank on Tuesday offered to buy local rival
Emporiki from France's Credit Agricole, heralding a
long-awaited consolidation in the battered sector.
Alpha's announcement comes days after rival Piraeus took
over the healthy part of ailing state lender ATEbank,
which the state had been under pressure to sell off as part of
demands from the country's international lenders.
Greece, desperate to win over lenders skeptical of its
efforts to reform, also plans to sell off state-controlled
Hellenic Postbank next, alongside state monopoly OPAP,
a Greek government official told Reuters.
The developments in the bank sector came as Greek political
leaders set a Wednesday meeting to agree on 11.5 billion euros
of austerity cuts demanded by the European Union and
International Monetary Fund lenders.
Greek banks are under pressure to consolidate to survive a
brutal debt crisis that has left them reliant on their central
bank for liquidity and triggered deposit outflows.
Credit Agricole, meanwhile, is scrambling to scale back its
4.6 billion euro exposure to Emporiki, worried that a Greek exit
from the euro zone would bring massive writedowns.
"A potential deal between Alpha and Credit Agricole, along
with the recently announced absorption of the sound part of
ATEbank by Piraeus Bank, will definitely alter the Greek banking
landscape," said Manos Giakoumis, analyst at Euroxx Securities.
"We anticipate that National and Eurobank will most likely
respond, proceeding to similar strategic moves," he said.
Alpha's offer makes it one of at least three contenders for
Emporiki, alongside bigger rivals National Bank, which
has confirmed its interest, and Eurobank, according to
a banking source.
Emporiki has previously confirmed it is in "preliminary
discussions" with Greek lenders.
In a bourse filing, Alpha dismissed a press report that said
a deal between the two banks would be signed in mid-September
after the terms of a planned Greek bank recapitalisation are
finalised and that a Qatari fund with a stake in Alpha would
offer "capital support" for the deal.
A Credit Agricole spokeswoman declined to comment.
Bankers say an acquisition would make sense if Emporiki is
to be sold after it is recapitalised, meeting regulatory capital
requirements. T h e buyer would not need to seek aid from a state
capital backstop, the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF).
Greek banks need to meet a Core Tier 1 capital ratio
requirement set by the Bank of Greece. Alpha did not provide
details on its offer or terms it has sought for a deal.
"If a deal goes through, it would create the second-largest
player in Greek banking, bigger than the Piraeus-ATE formation,"
said analyst Nick Koskoletos at Eurobank Securities, adding that
a combined Alpha-Emporiki entity would have total assets of
about 80 billion.
Apart from Postbank, analysts say other banks likely to be
part of further consolidation in the sector include Geniki Bank
, majority owned by France's Societe Generale.
PIREAUS HALTS EGYPTIAN SALE
Piraeus, however, announced on Tuesday that it had thrown in
the towel on the planned sale of its Egyptian unit. The bank,
had hired Barclays Capital in December to find buyers for its
41-branch Piraeus Bank Egypt but said it was halting the sale.
"There were no satisfactory offers," a senior official at
the bank told Reuters.
Piraeus said it would no longer seek offers of interest in
the near future.
Greek lenders have been divesting some of their operations
abroad to shore up their capital base after hits from a
sovereign debt swap and rising bad loans.
Greek banks rely on their national central bank for
liquidity and the four largest lenders were recapitalised this
year with 18 billion euros by the Hellenic Financial Stability
Fund, which is funded from the country's bailout package.
(Writing by George Georgiopoulos and Deepa Babington; Editing
by David Cowell and Louise Heavens)