Greece’s Alpha Bank freezes Eurobank merger over debt swap


AFP – Greece’s Alpha Bank on Monday froze merger talks with Eurobank pending the conclusion of tough negotiations between the government and private creditors on a huge sovereign debt write-down.

“The bank intends to await the finalization of the terms of the (debt write-down) and shall then convene the bank?s general meeting of shareholders, so that the latter can be duly informed and resolve upon (the course to follow) accordingly,” Alpha Bank said in a statement.

The bank added that the attempted bond swap, designed to erase around 100 billion euros ($132 billion) from Greek debt held by private creditors globally, was expected to affect it and Eurobank in a “disproportionate” manner.

Last year, Alpha Bank posted a nine-month net loss of 566.7 million euros after writing off 608.1 million euros in Greek sovereign debt.

Alpha Bank noted that the intended merger approved by Alpha Bank and Eurobank shareholder meetings in November had been premised on a milder debt write-down agreed by the eurozone in July that called on banks to accept a 21-percent loss.

A follow-up agreement in October increased the debt write-down to 50 percent in order to make Greek repayments more sustainable.

The merger plan, originally slated for completion in December, was designed to create Greece’s largest lender with major backing from a Qatari investment fund.

The Athens stock exchange earlier on Monday ordered a temporary suspension of trade in Alpha Bank and Eurobank shares on uncertainty that the planned merger between the two prominent lenders can be completed.

Alpha Bank earlier on Monday said it could not inform investors when the deal would be sealed, with negotiations between Greece and the International Institute of Finance, a global bank lobby group, ongoing from November.

“Due to current macroeconomic developments directly impacting on the banking sector … (Alpha Bank) cannot, at present, provide an accurate estimate of the timetable, and the overall development, of the merger between the Bank and Eurobank EFG,” Alpha Bank said.

“As soon as definitive facts emerge, the bank will duly update its disclosure,” it added.

For its part, Eurobank said it was working to complete the merger as soon as possible.

“Eurobank informs that it is consulting with Alpha Bank in order to complete the merger process the soonest possible and considers that there are no reasons to delay the completion of the merger,” it said.

At the suspension, Alpha shares were up 9.4 percent while Eurobank was down 0.25 percent.

Announced in August and approved by the banks’ respective boards in November, the merger aims to restore faith in Greece’s cash-starved banking system amid rising concern about its exposure to the country’s rock-bottom sovereign debt.

A capital increase of 3.9 billion euros ($5.2 billion), backed by Qatari fund Paramount Services Holding, was to be carried out in coming months as part of the merger deal.

Greek banks stand to lose heavily as a result of the government debt write-down that is part of the second eurozone bailout agreed for Athens in October.

The sum of 30 billion euros from that 130-billion-euro package is to be set aside to help recapitalise Greek banks.

French investment bank Natixis has estimated that Greece’s main four banks — National Bank, Eurobank, Alpha and Piraeus Bank — would need around 8.9 billion euros to keep their capital ratio at the required nine percent if the write-down goes through.

An audit on the Greek banking sector by international risk analyst BlackRock Solutions, delivered to the Bank of Greece earlier this month, has not been made public.

The Greek finance ministry on Monday insisted that the debt write-down will actually strengthen domestic lenders by “fully safeguarding their capital adequacy.”