July 21, 2014 / 2:36 PM / 4 years ago

ECB tests herald ownership shake-up in Poland - PKO

* ECB tests could trigger bank ownership changes in Poland

* EU tests no reason for Polish bank concern - PKO

* PKO could pay higher dividends after recent acquisition

By Adrian Krajewski and Marcin Goclowski

WARSAW, July 21 (Reuters) - Landmark euro zone bank tests could trigger another wave of consolidation in Poland if any foreign lenders are forced to sell off local subsidiaries, a senior executive at Poland’s largest bank PKO said.

The Polish banking sector has undergone major ownership reshuffles in recent years, with Santander securing a No.3 spot in Poland via two swift takeovers, while PKO itself secured its top spot by buying Nordea’s Polish assets.

Besides Santander, other euro zone banks that are significant players in the Polish market include Commerzbank , UniCredit, BCP and ING.

The European Central Bank (ECB) is now reviewing whether the euro zone’s 128 most important banks have properly valued their assets and have enough capital to withstand another crisis.

Banks that come up short in the assessments, which include a so-called asset quality review (AQR), may have to raise more capital, shed assets or write off bad debts.

“AQRs and stress-tests may prove by October that even one third of the eurozone banks have smaller or larger problems, as well as capital shortages,” PKO’s director of strategy, Pawel Borys, told Reuters in an interview.

“This could translate into further ownership changes, also in the Polish banking sector in the next two years,” he said.

Borys, a respected Polish banker, negotiated PKO’s transaction with Nordea and is overseeing the ongoing merger, as well as the bank’s overall strategy.

Austrian bank Erste has long harboured ambitions to enter the Polish market and said in February it was still interested in Polish acquisitions.

UniCredit’s Pekao has also been linked to acquisitions in Poland. Unicredit said in October it had made a preliminary offer for Poland’s BGZ through Pekao. BNP Paribas eventually struck a deal to buy the bank in December.

Similar health checks on European banks outside the euro zone are also taking place. The tests are a bid to banish the lingering doubts about the health of Europe’s banks which have seen them consistently valued below U.S. peers in the crisis.

Borys said the Polish version of the tests would not pose problems because the sector had one of the healthiest capital levels in Europe, with a capital ratio of about 15 percent, only a shade below the level enjoyed by Scandinavian banks.

“I’m convinced that the Polish system is safe,” he said.

His comments echoed those of the Polish central bank last week. It said the banking system was stable and able to withstand a tough economic downturn and market turbulence.

Borys also said that PKO’s 2.83 billion zloty deal to buy Poland’s No.10 lender from Nordea could lead to higher rewards for PKO’s state shareholder and other investors.

“The acquisition of the assets of Nordea will result, after the completion of the integration over the next two years, in additional net profit growth of about 9 percent,” he said.

“It also gives the potential for increased dividend payments,” he said.

The state bank paid out a dividend of 937.5 million zlotys ($305.83 million), or 0.75 zlotys per share, from its 2013 profit. (Editing by Laura Noonan and David Clarke)

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