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Foreign banks target Serbia

Foreign banks are racing to enter the Serbian banking market, one of the few in eastern Europe that still has large assets up for sale and strong potential for growth. Austria's Raiffeisen has stolen a march on its rivals but Italian and Greek banks are eager to build up business.

Belgrade privatizations are
performing well

SUDDENLY, AFTER A long hiatus, Belgrade is buzzing with talk of M&A deals. The services and industrial sectors were the first to see consolidation, but now banking is the focus of attention.

The Serbian government has begun privatizing assets it acquired in the banking crisis of 2000, including some of the biggest banks. It has already sold an 88% stake in Jubanka, the seventh-largest bank, to Alpha Bank, one of Greece's leading banks. It plans to sell several other banks this year, including Vojvodjanska banka, the second-biggest bank, and Novosadska banka, an important regional bank.

Banks in the private sector are being snapped up too – in December Bank Austria bought Eksimbanka, a mid-tier bank with foreign investors that included the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, for an undisclosed sum in the tens of millions of euros. And Italy's Banca Intesa made a dramatic entry in February with the acquisition of Delta Bank, the second-biggest bank by assets, which it bought from the richest man in Serbia, Miroslav Miskovic, for e258 million.

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