RBI ready to carve forex loans out of Polish unit to push through sale

By bne IntelliNews February 1, 2016

Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) is ready to carve the forex loans portfolio out of its Polish unit in order to offload the business, a board member at the Austrian parent said in comments published on February 1.

Raiffeisen Polbank has been on the block for over a year. The attempt to sell the Polish unit is part of RBI’s restructuring effort that also entails offloading operations in Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as scaling down lending in Russia, Ukraine, and Hungary.

GE Capital has also been trying to sell its Polish unit BPH. However, the uncertainty hanging over the Polish banking sector in connection with Swiss franc mortgages has made it impossible for potential sellers and buyers to agree on valuations.

Just over a year after the value of the Swiss franc spiked, a plan to force banks to offer more than 500,000 CHF borrowers the chance to convert their loans at favourable rates was unveilded last month. The draft bill offers few details for the moment however, which maintains the uncertainty for the meantime.

On top of the conversion plan, Poland introduced a bank tax on February 1. The new government's moves are considered a risk for the banking sector’s stability, according to some claims. Rating agencies, the National Bank of Poland and the European Central Bank have warned the government of the potential effects of the measures on the economy.

Both RBI and GE Capital are, however, keen to push onwards to dispose of the Polish businesses. The Austrian bank was hopeful in October that the election of Law & Justice (PiS) - no matter its evident antagonistic attitude towards the banks - would offer enough clarity to allow it to push the sale forwards, months after postponing the effort. While GE speculated long ago it could take on the risk on the forex loans in order to seal a deal, RBI has held back from volunteering to take the whack until now.

"It will likely be necessary to carve out the CHF [loan] portfolio with a volume of some €3bn, as it could have a negative impact on the valuation," RBI board member Peter Lennkh told Austrian newspaper Wirtschaftsbaltt.

The Polish unit should be sold by end of 2016 or early 2017 at the latest, RBI‘s CEO Karl Sevelda suggested in October. Afterwards, 15-25% of Polbank is supposed to be floated on the Warsaw Stock Exchange - a commitment taken on by RBI when it bought the unit in 2012.

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