Monday, September 29, 2008

European financial services firms fail

It was "Bank Failure Weekend" again. This time, in Europe:
Fortis, the largest Belgian financial-services firm, received an 11.2 billion-euro ($16.3 billion) rescue from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg after investor confidence in the bank evaporated last week.

Belgium will buy 49 percent of Fortis's Belgian banking unit for 4.7 billion euros, while the Netherlands will pay 4 billion euros for a similar stake in the Dutch banking business, the governments said in a statement late yesterday. Luxembourg will provide a 2.5 billion-euro loan convertible into 49 percent of Fortis's banking division in that country.

Fortis is the largest European firm so far caught up in the global financial crisis.... Fortis dropped 35 percent last week in Brussels trading on concern the company would struggle to replenish capital depleted by the 24.2 billion-euro takeover of ABN Amro Holding NV units and credit writedowns.

"Confidence in Fortis needs to be restored,'' said Corne van Zeijl, a senior portfolio manager at SNS Asset Management in Den Bosch, the Netherlands, who oversees about $1.1 billion and owns Fortis shares.

Fortis plans to sell its stake in ABN Amro's consumer banking unit, though a buyer wasn't identified. Fortis joined with Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and Spain's Banco Santander SA last year to buy Amsterdam-based ABN Amro for 72 billion euros, just as the U.S. subprime mortgage market collapsed.
Barclays is lucky it failed in its attempt to buy ABN Amro last year.

In Britain, mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley is being nationalized:
Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, will announce on Monday that the Government is taking over the bank’s mortgages and selling off the savings business and the branches. Savers are reassured that their money is safe although people owning shares in the bank will lose out.

The Government may merge the bank, which has mortgages worth more than £40 billion, with the nationalised Northern Rock. Every taxpayer in Britain will be exposed to the equivalent of £5,500 in mortgage debt as a result.
In Germany, Hypo Real Estate Holding AG had to be bailed out.

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