Portuguese banking aristocracy: Time for family planning
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Portuguese banking aristocracy: Time for family planning

Portugal's banking sector has consolidated rapidly since reprivatization but assets of $250 billion are still divided among more than 40 players. Emu and foreign competition demand even more mergers or alliances. The three big controlling families already have informal connections that could form the basis for closer ties.

Banco Totta & Acores (BTA), one of Portugal's leading banks, was in turmoil last January. Its shares were in free fall, its chairman had resigned in a huff and investors were on the point of revolt after the announcement of a proposed dividend abysmally below market expectations.

Historically one of Portugal's most profitable banks, Banco Totta was the first to be returned to the private sector under a government decree that effectively overturned the nationalization policy of Portugal's 1974 revolution.

The market knew that last year - Banco Totta's first full year of operation under new ownership - would be a difficult period of adjustment. But the bank's fall in net profit to Esc15.6 billion ($90.28 million) from Esc17.2 billion in 1995 came as a bitter disappointment. It was generally accepted that sharply higher bad-debt provisions - part of a balance-sheet clean-up - were going to eat into profits. However, shareholders felt they had been let down by a proposed Esc135 a share dividend. The market expectation had been Esc190 (with profits of Esc18 billion forecast by the bank's management during a roadshow for international investors), a payout that would have been in line with the previous year's, thus topping the 6.8%

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