October 23, 2018 / 2:20 PM / 9 months ago

Greece's NBG to ask EU for more time to complete asset sales plan

ATHENS, Oct 23 (Reuters) - National Bank (NBG), Greece’s second-largest lender will ask European Union competition authorities for more time to complete planned asset sales under an EU-approved restructuring plan, two bankers close to the matter said.

NBG has been selling assets in the Balkans, including operations in Bulgaria, Albania, Romania and Turkey, as it downsizes to focus on its core domestic banking business.

But it needs more time to complete the divestments beyond the end-2018 deadline previously agreed with EU authorities.

Those assets include subsidiaries in Cyprus, Romania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as NBG’s insurance arm.

Last week NBG ended talks with Shanghai-based Gongbao Group on the sale of a majority stake in its wholly-owned insurance subsidiary. A previous effort to sell the business to U.S. and Dutch investors fell through in March.

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley advised NBG on the sale of its insurance business.

“Two months until the end of 2018 is potentially not enough to complete the plan,” one of the bankers, who declined to be named, told Reuters on Tuesday. As a result, the issue has to be officially referred to the Directorate-General of the EU Commission, he added. “NBG is preparing a proposal on the time frame it wants to conclude its divestments plan,” the banker said.

In the proposal NBG will explain why the planned asset sales haven’t been completed and outline next steps, eyeing an extended deadline.

Apart from seeking the sale of a 75 percent stake in National Insurance, NBG is looking for buyers for fully-owned Stopanska Banka in Macedonia, which has around a 35 percent market share.

It also plans to sell operations in Cyprus and restart the process of selling Banca Romaneasca in Romania.

NBG had clinched a deal to sell the subsidiary to a unit of Hungary’s OTP Bank but Romania’s central bank rejected the deal in March. Credit Suisse was NBG’s advisor on the sale.

Banca Romaneasca has about a 2 percent market share in the Romanian market.

“The aim is to sell the unit by the end of this year but it may take longer, until the first half of 2019,” the second banker said. “Players looking to acquire banks in the Romanian market have already bought franchises there.”

NBG has already sold its Bulgarian subsidiary UBB to Belgian bank KBC and offloaded a small unit in South Africa. In July it concluded the sale of NBG Albania to American Bank of Investments after selling Vojvodjanska banka and NBG Leasing in Serbia last year. (Reporting by George Georgiopoulos; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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