Slovenia to sell its two largest state banks in 2019

LJUBLJANA, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Slovenia plans to sell its two largest banks -- state-owned Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) and Abanka -- in 2019, Finance Minister Mateja Vranicar Erman told a news conference on Thursday.

She said the government plans to start the sale of majority of NLB through an initial public offering in 2018 and complete it in 2019. The government had said it would keep at least 25 percent of the bank in state hands to have a say in key business decisions.

The government also plans to sell 100 percent of Abanka to a strategic parter in 2019, as agreed with the European Commission in exchange for its approval of state aid to the bank in 2013, Vranicar said.

NLB also received state aid in 2013 and Slovenia had committed itself to sell majority of the bank in 2017 but is now asking the Commission to approve its plan to start selling the bank after the general election which is expected in June.

The Commission has not yet said whether it would accept that proposal.

Slovenia was reluctant to sell its largest banks in the past decades, saying state ownership of the biggest banks was in the national interest, so the government still controls about 45 percent of the sector.

The other banks are mostly owned by foreign banks and investors, including France’s Societe Generale, Italy’s Unicredit and Intesa Sanpaolo, Russia’s Sberbank, Austria’s Sparkasse and Addiko Bank, Serbia’s AIK Bank, and U.S. investment firm Apollo Global Management.

The Commission had said bank privatisation is necessary in order to ensure the banks’ long-term viability. (Reporting By Marja Novak Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)