May 5, 2017 / 8:05 AM / 7 months ago

Spain's Banco Popular to sell off assets to boost depleted capital

MADRID (Reuters) - The new management of Spain’s Banco Popular POP.MC is looking at selling its credit card business Wizink and U.S. franchise TotalBank to boost its capital after the bank lost 137 million euros ($150 million) in the first three months of the year.

In Popular’s first results under new chairman Emilio Saracho, it set aside 500 million euros in quarterly provisions as it continues to clean up 37 billion euros of toxic real estate assets accumulated during Spain’s financial crisis.

To raise funds to cover the provisions, Chief Executive Ignacio Sanchez-Asiain, who joined in April, said Popular would sell off assets outside its core banking business in Spain.

Asked whether Popular would sell off Wizink and TotalBank, Sanchez-Asiain said the bank would consider offers and hoped to close the TotalBank deal this year.

“Wizink is a very attractive asset due to its profitability and growth. That said, at the right price we could sell it,” Sanchez-Asiain told a news conference.

Popular’s 49 percent stake in Wizink, which it set up in 2014 with U.S. investment firm Varde Partners, is valued at around 1 billion euros, according to analysts at UBS. Florida-based TotalBank is valued at 400 million euros, they said.

NEW STRATEGY

Chairman Saracho is seeking to draw a line under the management of his predecessor, Angel Ron, and said last month the bank could undertake another capital hike after a 2.5-billion-euro raise last year and consider a merger deal.

In 2016, Popular, which has undergone three leadership shake-ups since last July, posted a 3.5-billion-euro loss, which on Friday it revised up by 130 million euros. The bank said it expected to return to profit this year.

In a sign of the new management’s change in strategy, Sanchez-Asiain said on Friday Popular had “totally abandoned” a plan proposed by Ron to spin-off 6 billion euros of non-performing real estate assets into a separate unit.

Popular shares opened down 5 percent but later reversed their losses and were 3 percent higher by 1200 GMT as analysts welcomed a slight reduction to its non-performing asset portfolio, the largest among Spanish banks and the prospect of asset sales.

Its shares have been the worst performers on the European STOXX banking index .SX7P in the last six months and have lost 60 percent over the past year.

Spain’s sixth biggest lender said net interest income - a measure of earnings on loans minus deposit costs - was 500 million euros, down over 9 percent from a year ago and 3 percent from the previous quarter, and just below analysts’ forecasts.

It ended March with a fully-loaded capital ratio - a closely-watched measure of a bank’s strength - of 7.33 percent compared to 8.17 percent at the end of December. It is the lowest among listed Spanish banks, although it is above regulatory requirements.

Analysts said the slip in capital was more evidence that the bank needed to raise more money.

“It’s a long way back from such a low CET1 ratio,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Benjamin Toms wrote in a note, referring to Popular’s capital. Toms said sales of Wizink and TotalBank could increase the ratio by 185 basis points and 59 basis points respectively.

Editing by Keith Weir

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