* Unidentified suitor has submitted non-binding offer
* Sale seen within 12 months, hinge on return of stability
* UniCredit joins ranks of banks exiting Ukraine
(Adds quotes and background)
VIENNA, March 11 UniCredit has joined
the exodus of foreign banks from Ukraine, putting its local unit
up for sale in a deal it hopes to wrap up within a year should
political and economic turmoil in the country settle down.
The Italian bank's central and eastern European arm, Bank
Austria, said an unidentified suitor had submitted a non-binding
offer for the Ukrsotskbank business before the uprising that
toppled President Viktor Yanukovich last month.
Talks continued despite unrest and a standoff with Russia,
whose forces control the Crimean peninsula.
The sale talks were "of course subject to a normalisation of
the political and economic environment, which by the way we are
quite confident will take place," Bank Austria finance chief
Francesco Giordano told reporters.
"Naturally the conversation may take somewhat longer and is
a bit less certain of execution in the current circumstances."
The Ukrainian business was valued at 0.7 times equity value,
he said. Reclassification of the Ukrainian bank as an asset held
for sale and its operating loss in 2013 hit profits by around
250 million euros ($347 million), Bank Austria said.
UniCredit CEE head Gianni Franco Papa said as recently as
December that the bank would not walk away lightly from Ukraine,
where it merged two units last year to give it around 3.3
billion euros in assets, 435 branches and 6,200 staff.
Raiffeisen Bank International has put plans to
sell its Ukrainian business on hold for now.
Among banks which have pared back in Ukraine are Germany's
Commerzbank, which sold its Bank Forum unit in 2012;
Austria's Erste Group, which sold its loss-making unit
in 2012; and Sweden's Swedbank, which sold its
subsidiary last year.
Italy's Intesa Sanpaolo said in January it would
sell its Ukrainian unit to a unit of Ukraine-based Group DF.
Foreign banks that remain may have to choose between cutting
their losses or holding on to grab market share.
Ukraine was badly hit by the financial crisis when GDP
plunged 15 percent in 2009. Government coffers were depleted by
huge debt repayments, efforts to protect the currency and high
Support from the International Monetary Fund is seen as
critical to shore up Ukraine's collapsing finances and get its
economy back on the right track.
Ukraine's finance minister has said he hoped the IMF would
work on an aid package of at least $15 billion. That figure
would be in line with the IMF's last loan to Ukraine in 2010.
($1 = 0.7205 Euros)
(Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Elaine Hardcastle)