PKO snaps up Nordea's assets as Polish bank consolidation continues

By bne IntelliNews June 13, 2013

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Poland's largest lender PKO Bank Polski has finally secured an acquisition, announcing late on June 12 that it has agreed to buy Nordea's Polish assets in a deal worth around €700m. According to those in the industry, it's likely to be the first deal in another round of consolidation of the sector.

State-controlled PKO has agreed to buy Nordea's banking operation in Poland, as well as its financing and life insurance businesses for a total of €694m, or PLN2.83bn. The Polish buyer said in a statement that it expects the deal to be finalised at the turn of the year, adding: "The takeover will help strengthen PKO's position as the leading bank in Poland and Central and Eastern Europe."

The price is still subject to change depending on Nordea Polska's financial results. The transaction is subject to approval by the Polish antitrust office and the financial-markets regulator. Nordea said in its statement that its back office operation in Lodz and Polish pension fund company are not affected by the transaction.

It added that PKO will make an offer to minority shareholders in Nordea Bank Polska in the coming days, although the Swedish bank's Polish unit has a free float of just 0.8%. Nordea group CEO Christian Clausen said the requirement by regulators for Polish banks to list at least 25% of their shares on the Warsaw Stock Exchange is one of the major factors behind the sale.

PKO has been the frontrunner to make the purchase since Nordea announced it was selling up in April. PKO CEO Zbigniew Jagiello said on April 11 that the assets would fit in well with his bank's plans to grow by buying both home and abroad. He has regularly claimed this year that a total of at least four foreign banks are currently looking to sell their Polish assets.

No other sales of Polish banks are currently on the table, but speculation is rife that Rabobank is looking to unload agricultural lender BGZ. That's despite the Dutch bank having only bought out the remaining 40% stake - at a huge price - less than a year ago. Growing retail player Alior gave up its hunt for a strategic investor last year to IPO in Warsasw.

PKO has been on the hunt for acquisitions across CEE for some time, but this is the first deal it has managed to tie up. It missed out on several sales over the past couple of years, which mostly went to large Eurozone banking groups lusting after a Polish market, seen at the time as the most promising in Europe. Book-ended by Santander's acquisitions of Bank Zachodni WBK in early 2011 and Kredyt a year later, Raiffeisen bought Polbank last year, and Polish player Getin acquired a number of niche units from foreign investors.

However, with capital more and more precious in Europe, and the Polish economy having hit something of a buffer, the suitors appear far fewer now. There has been little mention of interest in the Nordea assets from any other quarter than PKO. It's likely that Sberbank may have fancied it, having coveted an entry into the Polish market for some time. However, suspicion of Moscow remains rife in Warsaw, and the state-controlled Russian giant - along with compatriots sniffing around assets in other sectors - has been made fully aware that it is not welcome over the past couple of years.

On top of that, financial markets regulator KNF and the central bank have both made it clear during the crisis that they are already uncomfortable with the level of foreign ownership in the Polish banking sector, and are likely therefore to have encouraged the PKO bid. In comments on Facebook, Treasury Minister Wlodzimierz Karpinski welcomed the deal. "The transaction is coherent with the concept of the treasury, which supports the creation of national champions," he wrote.

However, PKO's window of opportunity - the Nordea assets were estimated to be worth PLN2.8bn-4.3bn (€679m-1.04bn) when first put on the market - thanks to the lull in appetite may not last long.

While backing up Jagiello's claims that several banks are up for grabs in an interview with the Wall Street Journal late last month, Mateusz Morawiecki, CEO of Santander's Polish unit, said the Spanish giant plans to make further acquisitions once it has finalized the merger of BZWBK and Kredyt.

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