Polish banks insist consolidation wave is coming

By bne IntelliNews July 1, 2013

bne -

Despite threats from the regulator that it will block any further consolidation, major players on the Polish banking market insist a wave is coming. On June 29, the country's second largest lender - Pekao - admitted it's under pressure to grow via acquisition, while Dutch Rabobank said it's "looking at strategic options" for its Polish unit.

Speculation that the Polish banking sector is set for M&A action that will see the major players competing for greater market share kicked off in ernest in mid-June, when the country's biggest bank, PKO, bought the local unit of Scandinavian bank Nordea. That acquisition is reported to have put pressure on other leading Polish banks - mostly foreign owned - to seek growth through M&A in order to keep up. Meanwhile, several smaller EU lenders with assets in the country are thought to need to sell.

The PKO purchase has Pekao on the lookout, CEO Luigi Lovalio told Gazeta Wyborcza in an interview published on June 28. "We are looking at the market with caution. If an opportunity, that will let us grow, appears, we will do everything to take advantage of it,"

According to Reuters, banking sources report that Pekao - which is controlled by UniCredit - was also in the hunt for the Nordea assets bought by PKO. Spain's Santander - which controls third largest Polish lender Bank Zachodni WBK - and France's BNP Paribas were also said to be in the running, and market speculation suggests the buyer for the next deal in the sector is likely to come from among those firms.

The theory is that the leading players are now in a race to hoover up the assets of those European banks struggling to keep up with capital ratio requirements, as was seen in a series of deals between early 2011 and 2012.

Although expectations of a divestment by Germany's Commerzbank of BRE Bank have died down in recent months, speculation persists that Portugal's Millennium bcp will soon be forced to put its Polish unit up for grabs. Growing retail player Alior pushed through an IPO in Warsaw last year, but is reported to need to find a strategic investor by the end of the year.

Dutch Rabobank only bought out the remaining 40% stake in agricultural specialist BGZ from the state - at a huge price - less than a year ago, but it is one of the first names expected to be sold. Without citing sources, Parkiet reported on June 28 that a PLN2.7bn deal will go through this year.

"We are looking at the market and our position in the market regarding our size," a Rabobank spokeswoman told Reuters. "There is so much happening in that market at the moment, we are looking at what is the best strategy. That is not necessarily selling."

If Rabobank doesn't sell however, it would likely need to buy to shore up its share of the Polish market, and the Dutch bank has been struggling to keep up with the Eurozone's strengthened capital requirements as the crisis drags onwards. It is in the midst of a restructuring that will see 3,000 jobs cut and a refocusing back onto its "core business" of lending to Dutch farmers.

It lost its triple-A credit rating from Standard & Poor's in 2011, leading to the sale of fund manager Robeco, as well as Swiss private bank Sarasin. Amongst mooted suitors for its Polish unit are ING Groep, BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole, as well as Polish lender Getin, which is currently conducting a buyback.

While Andrzej Jakubiak, the head of financial markets watchdog KNF, insisted on June 20 that there's little interest from foreign players in the country's banks, and the regulator would seek to block any significant consolidation, the major players on the market clearly believe a wave of deals is on the way. Should any foreign parent bank be struggling to support its Polish operations, it would clearly be preferrable to allow a deal to go through rather than see a drop in investment or even a collapse.

Mateusz Morawiecki, CEO of BZWBK, said earlier this month: "Taking into account the level of concentration ... I believe there will be another consolidation wave."

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