(Corrects in 3rd paragraph to show Jan. 15 is deadline for tender, not for bids)
* Government overhauled sector this year, injected capital
* Deadline for tender to be issued is Jan. 15, bids to be evaluated by March 15
* FHB Bank shares rise 8.5 pct on speculation it may bid -analysts
BUDAPEST, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Hungary’s government plans to sell its majority stake in the savings bank Takarekbank in an open, international tender, according to a government decree published in the official gazette, Magyar Kozlony.
Takarekbank is the umbrella group of Hungary’s savings-bank sector, which the government expects to boost its share in corporate lending in the coming years and help the economy post stronger growth.
The deadline for the issuing of the tender is Jan. 15, 2014. Bids will be evaluated by March 15, according to the decree.
The state holds an over 35 percent stake in Takarekbank through state development bank MFB and a further 19.3 percent stake via the state-owned Hungarian Post. The government has said it would sell its stake after an overhaul of the sector.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has often said that half the banking sector should be in Hungarian ownership. Foreign-owned banks have been cutting exposure since the 2008 crisis, when a lending bubble burst.
By 1434 GMT, shares in FHB Bank rose 8.5 percent to their strongest level in little over a year in turnover of 67.6 million forints ($310,800) on what analysts said was market speculation that FHB may bid for the stake.
An FHB spokesman could not comment immediately. Tamas Vojnits, chairman of the board at Takarekbank, could not be reached immediately for comment.
“FHB could bring commercial banking know-how into the alliance,” said Akos Kuti, analyst at brokerage Equilor.
Norbert Harcsa, an analyst at Ipopema Securities also said the rise in FHB shares was probably driven by speculation about a potential bid, which he said was a good opportunity for some investors to buy into the stock.
OTP, Hungary’s biggest bank, has not decided whether to bid but will look at the possibility, an OTP spokesman said.
OTP Chief Executive Sandor Csanyi said in a Forbes interview before the tender was announced that OTP was interested in every bank that is for sale but would not jeopardise its capital and liquidity position.
OTP shares were down 1 percent at 4,207 forints on the Budapest Stock Exchange at 1456 GMT, underperforming the blue chip index, which dropped 0.4 percent.
Orban’s government took control of Hungary’s savings-bank sector earlier this year and overhauled it with measures that included a capital injection of at least 100 billion forint.
Takarekbank’s Vojnits told Reuters in October that savings banks planned to at least double lending to small and medium-sized firms in coming years as part of a government drive to boost economic growth.
With 1,700 branches, savings banks have by far the biggest network in Hungary, but they control only about 5 percent of the overall lending market.
Takarekbank’s main competitors include OTP, Hungary’s biggest bank by total assets, followed by local units of Austria’s Erste, Belgium’s KBC, Germany’s Bayerische Landesbank, Italy’s Intesa Sanpaolo , Raiffeisen and Unicredit based on 2012 data.
$1 = 217.48 Hungarian forints Writing by Gergely Szakacs; Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Larry King and David Evans