MADRID, June 19 George Soros bought just under 1
percent of small Spanish lender Liberbank during its
recent rights issue, a source familiar with the deal said on
Thursday, the latest investment by the U.S. billionaire in the
country's recovering banks.
Liberbank, which took rescue funds during Spain's financial
crisis, in June completed a 475 million euro ($645 million)
capital hike, so it can repay the aid and bolster its finances.
"There were about 20 anglo-saxon funds who bought into (the
operation), and Soros was among those," the source said, adding
that the U.S. investor's holding represented between 0.5 percent
and 1 percent of Liberbank's capital.
The bank and a spokesman for Soros declined to comment.
Spanish banks have increasingly turned to foreign investors
to strengthen their capital as they emerge from a crisis sparked
by a 2008 property crash, which left many holding soured assets.
Spain took 41.3 billion euros in European aid in 2012 to
help the weakest, including Liberbank, which needed 124 million
euros in the form of bonds that can convert into capital.
A recovering economy in Spain, which exited recession in the
second half of 2013, is slowly feeding through to banks and many
believe the worst of the property slump has passed.
Soros recently backed Bankia, once a symbol of the
crisis, buying shares in February when the government started
selling down its majority stake.
He also took a stake in a real estate investment vehicle
that was floated in Madrid earlier this year and invested
recently in Spanish building group FCC.
Latin American investors have bought into lenders such as
Sabadell and Popular in recent months, while
Liberbank also drew Mexican backers through an accelerated share
sale, in parallel to the rights issue.
One percent of Liberbank is worth roughly 20 million euros
at current market prices, though its new shares - which start
trading next week - were issued at a discount.
Liberbank shares closed up 1.3 percent at 0.78 euros per
share on Thursday, after Spanish newspaper El Economista earlier
reported Soros' investment.
Soros, in a joint operation with another U.S. fund, is also
among bidders for a 6.5-billion-euro portfolio of mortgages
being sold by nationalised Spanish lender Catalunya Banc,
Spanish media have reported in recent weeks, citing financial
sources. ($1 = 0.7336 Euros)
(Reporting by Sarah White, Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)