Romania’s privatization starts to pay off
Foreign banks are pushing the sector forward even as the rewards come in. The capital market is also showing signs of life but would benefit from more determined decision-making. Florian Neuhof reports.
IN ROMANIA, bank privatization and foreign involvement go hand in hand. Société Générale’s purchase of 51% of Romanian Development Bank (BRD) in 1999 was the first milestone. After Austria’s Erste Bank bought Banca Comerciala Romania (BCR), the country’s largest bank, at 5.8 times book value, 90% of Romanian banks were in foreign hands. Only savings bank Casa de Economii si Consemnatiuni (CEC) was left on the shelf.
There has been no shortage of interest in CEC, Romania’s fifth-largest bank. The bidding process has reduced the original seven contenders to Hungary’s OTP Bank and the National Bank of Greece. The fact that Erste paid €3.7 billion for its 62% stake in BCR has highlighted the opportunities that foreign investors see in the country but has also delayed the CEC transaction since it encouraged the government to hold out for a higher price than that offered by its suitors. Their continued interest in spite of the fact that the ailing bank will need restructuring [see CEC faces downsizing dilemma, this issue] is testimony to the confidence in the future of Romanian banking.