(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 (Reuters) - 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.
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)