How BCR Dodged The Bullet

05.05.2011 ZF English

December 20, 2005, at 19:13. Sebastian Vladescu, the then finance minister, announces the result of the biggest privatisation in Romanian history: Austrian group Erste bought the biggest local bank BCR beating Portugal's Millennium BCP by a whisker, in a transaction worth EUR3.75 billion.

For both groups BCR is "the deal of a lifetime", but an operation that required significant resources, even above their normal powers, considering that the difference between Austria and Portugal versus Romania is not that great in terms of size of the economy.

May 4th 2011. Portugal is rescued by the IMF and the European Union from default with a EUR78 billion bailout. Millennium BCP needs to get EUR1.2 billion to strengthen its capital, which has been significantly weakened by the crisis years and by Portugal's problems.

What would have happened to the BCR had the Portuguese been the winners of the privatisation auction? Would BCR not have been on the ropes had its main shareholder not been able to support it any more? Who would have "rescued" whom now - Millennium BCR or BCR Millennium? Erste itself worked its way through the crisis with the help of the Austrian state, which injected EUR1.2 billion in it in early 2009 and guaranteed bonds issued by the bank. The vast majority of the international financial groups that own banks in Romania were "rescued" during the crisis by their own states, who pumped billions of euros into them to keep them from being engulfed in the whirlwind of the crisis. The Greek and the Portuguese at Millennium, who after losing BCR decided to invest over EUR300 million to start greenfield projects, now hold 16%-17% of the assets of the Romanian banking system, with problems in their own countries making it much more difficult to fund Romanian operations through loans.


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