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Business

Netherlands to sell ABN Amro bank stake

The Dutch government has announced plans to sell the state-owned bank, seven years after it was nationalized during the global financial crisis. The move sets the stage for one of the largest bank flotations in years.

Netherlands gave the green light Friday for the stake sale, which is to take place in stages. The decision paves the way for one of the largest bank flotations in years, with the government valuing the lender at about 15 billion euros ($16.5 billion). The move also marks a milestone in Europe's long recovery from the financial crisis of 2008.

"Now the bank can stand on its own feet again," Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in a statement. The initial sale could be worth between 3 billion and 4.5 billion euros and take place as soon as the fourth quarter of this year, pending parliament's approval, Dijsselbloem added.

One of the three big Dutch banks, ABN Amro was a global player in 2007 when it was taken over and dismembered in a 71-billion-euro hostile bid that was the largest-ever in the banking industry.

The 2007 takeover proved disastrous both for ABN and its buyers, the Royal Bank of Scotland, itself later nationalized by the British government, Santander and the now defunct Fortis.

And just a year later, in 2008, the global financial crisis forced the Dutch government to bail out ABN to the tune of 17 billion euros and shell out a further 5 billion euros on its restructuring.

Significant market interest

This time, the government will seek to avoid that risk. The shares issued will be certificates granting a voting right that can be suspended under certain circumstances.

Dijsselbloem said he expected the state to remain a shareholder in the bank for "a number of years" following the initial share sale and that strong anti-takeover positions would be put in place when the bank relisted.

He also noted there was considerable market interest in the bank and added that the Dutch central bank agreed a 2015 listing was possible.

"The results of the first quarter of 2015 show the business performance of the bank is good," the finance minister said.

The bank, which has 22,000 employees, made a net profit of 543 million euros in the first quarter, its best quarterly performance for four years.

Its return to private hands, which has been planned since 2013, was delayed by the Dutch government in March amid public anger over the scale of mooted salary increases for directors.

The proposal to increase salaries of most ABN Amro executives by 100,000 euros each has since been scrapped.

sri/hg (dpa, Reuters)