WARSAW Polish lenders Pekao PEO.WA and Getin Noble Bank GNB.WA may join the race to buy local rival BGZ BGZ.WA if Rabobank puts it up for sale, sources said on Wednesday, in a deal that would mark further consolidation in the country's banking sector.
Rabobank RABO.UL, the Netherlands' largest retail bank, said in June it was "looking at strategic options" for BGZ, after media reported it may sell its 98 percent stake this year in a deal that could be worth nearly $1 billion.
Foreign banks control about 70 percent of the Polish banking sector, but several have looked for an exit to boost their capital positions hit by the global economic crisis.
Those remaining are using such opportunities to strengthen their positions in the sector, which for years has been under strict regulator supervision and has been relatively healthy in comparison with those of many other European nations.
A banking sector source confirmed a report in the business daily Parkiet that Pekao, a unit of Italy's UniCredit's (CRDI.MI), was ready to bid for BGZ. Pekao is Poland's second biggest lender in terms of assets and has a market capitalization of $13.5 billion.
"Pekao's CEO Luigi Lovaglio got the green light from Italy to try to buy BGZ," the source said. "But their offer is opportunistic, in other words low."
That source and another banking source said that Poland's fourth richest person, Leszek Czarnecki was also looking to add BGZ to his Getin Noble Bank. "Czarnecki hired an advisor and is interested in the deal," the second person said.
A Pekao spokeswoman declined to comment, but said that the bank was keeping an eye on the market. A spokesman for Getin, which is Poland's sixth biggest lender in terms of assets and has a market capitalization of $1.8 billion, declined to comment.
In July sources told Reuters that Dutch bank ING Groep ING.AS and French bank BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) were interested in buying BGZ.
Pekao has been linked to several recent sales of banking assets in Poland by analysts and the media, although the bank has yet to buy anything major since its merger with BPH as part of UniCredit's 2005 purchase of HypoVereinsbank.
BGZ's illiquid shares rose 1.9 percent on Wednesday, outperforming a 0.3 percent gain by Warsaw's banking index .BNKI.
Western banks entered Poland in the mid 1990s after the country overturned communism and encouraged them to invest in ailing Polish banks.
In recent years, Commerzbank's (CBKG.DE) BRE Bank BREP.WA, Millennium BCP's (BCP.LS) Bank Millennium MILP.WA and Pekao have all been tipped to be put up for sale. But few deals have actually materialized.
Two years ago, Banco Santander (SAN.MC) trumped Poland's largest bank PKO BP PKO.WA to buy Bank Zachodni WBK BZW.WA and merged it last year with KBC's (KBC.BR) Kredyt Bank.
State-controlled giant PKO fought back in June when it bought Swedish Nordea's (NDA.ST) Polish business NDAP.WA.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Chris Borowski and Pravin Char)