MADRID Barclays' sale of its Spanish banking business to Caixabank looks set to mark the end of a hectic first round of consolidation in the country's finance industry as it emerges from the financial crisis.
Barcelona-based Caixabank - Spain's third-biggest lender by market value and owner of the largest bank branch network - has agreed to buy Barclays' wealth management and retail and corporate banking business in the country.
But after this 800 million euro deal, there are fewer opportunities for potential bidders for Spanish banking assets at attractive prices.
"Most of the obvious transactions that were going to be done have been done," Nomura analyst Daragh Quinn said.
Dozens of Spanish savings banks have been merged into larger peers in the wake of a property crash which left many short of capital and some in need of a 41.3-billion-euro (54 billion US dollar) European rescue in 2012.
BBVA in July beat Caixabank to buy Catalunya Banc, a bailed-out lender auctioned off by the state, while Banco Popular in June bought Citi's retail and credit card business in Spain.
A shake-up of the broader banking landscape following a health check on the industry by the European Central Bank - which is taking over as the supervisor of euro zone entities in November - could ultimately spur more deals, if weak banks are pushed to find partners.
Spanish banks are also coming under pressure to open up to outside investors, helping to improve transparency in an industry once heavily populated by unlisted savings banks.
Cooperative banking group Cajamar is seeking new capital, including from foreign private equity firms, while Banco Mare Nostrum (BMN), majority-owned by the government, is planning to float on the stock market next year as a condition of its rescue.
The Spanish state will also be looking to sell more shares in government-controlled Bankia, though it is holding off until at least the results of the European stress tests in October.
FUNDS ALSO CIRCLING
Caixabank, already one of the most acquisitive banks during the crisis alongside Sabadell, has already flagged there could be deals again in a more distant future, when banks have digested the past four years of mergers.
Caixabank Chief Executive Gonzalo Gortazar told analysts on a conference call on Monday that, within a three-year view, he expected "some additional transactions" in the sector.
International investment funds have also been interested in picking up cheap banking assets in Spain after the crisis, as the economy returns to growth following a six year downturn.
Apollo Global Management last year bought a small banking network, Evo Banco, off nationalized NCG Banco.
Barclays' operations in Spain had drawn initial interest from private equity firms and funds, two people person familiar with the transaction said. Barclays declined to comment.
Caixabank is paying around 800 million euros in cash for the Barclays assets, valuing them at 0.47 times book value - below what some analysts had expected, given their 1.7-billion-euro book value.
"While we are slightly disappointed by the sale price, the improvement in core tier 1 and leverage ratio as well as acceleration of the disposal of non-core should be taken well," Espirito Santo analyst Shailesh Raikundlia said.
Barclays shares were down 0.3 percent by 1130 GMT, versus a 0.7 percent decline in the European banking index.
Barclays made losses in Spain in 2013 but turned a profit again in the first half of this year. For the UK bank, the sale entails a 500-million-pound loss after tax, it said.
Caixabank is looking to achieve around 150 million euros in gross cost synergies by 2016 from the Barclays deal, which will also involve around 300 million euros in restructuring costs, net of tax. The integrated assets would contribute about 80 million euros to its net profit in 2016, Caixabank said.
(1 US dollar = 0.7609 euro)
(Reporting by Sarah White and Jesus Aguado. Additional reporting by Matthew Scuffham in London. Editing by Jane Merriman)