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There’s something special about Turkey’s banks

The country’s banking system breezed through the global financial crisis with an ease few thought possible. Its economy is likely to boom as a trading hub for the region. It is no wonder banks such as HSBC are looking to increase their presence. Nick Lord reports from Istanbul.

TURKISH BANKERS, LIKE their peers around the world, enjoy nothing more than gossiping about their competitors. And for the past few years, one subject has trumped all others: who is going to buy General Electric’s 20.5% stake in Garanti Bank? GE will not confirm that the stake is even up for sale, although JPMorgan is understood to have had the sale mandate for nearly two years.

During that time, rumours have flown around Istanbul, from the gleaming towers of Levent to the breezy bistros on the Bosporus. At first it was understood that perhaps GE’s Turkish partner in Garanti, the Dogus Group, would buy back the stake. Then reports surfaced that many banks, from Russia, from the Gulf and even from Asia, were showing an interest. Private equity investors were reported to be sniffing around but were being rebuffed by the regulators.

The latest and perhaps most credible report is that HSBC is seriously considering buying the stake. Neither Garanti nor HSBC have denied the report. But then again, they aren’t confirming it either. Considered opinion is that HSBC’s recent announcement of its intention to buy Nedbank in South Africa might mean that its appetite for a minority purchase in Turkey is on the wane.

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