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European Govts rescue Fortis for $16.4 bn

European Govts rescue Fortis for $16.4 bn
AP
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First Published: Mon, Sep 29 2008. 11 41 AM IST
Updated: Mon, Sep 29 2008. 11 41 AM IST
Amsterdam: Fortis NV said on Monday it will become a smaller but financially stable bank after three European governments agreed on a $16.4 billion bailout package.
Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg agreed late on Sunday to the cash injection to avert a run on Fortis, taking a 49% stake in exchange and demanding Fortis resell the share of ABN Amro it bought a year ago the very decision that brought about all its troubles.
Fortis, with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium and Utrecht, Netherlands, is Belgium’s largest retail bank, while ABN Amro is the largest in the Netherlands.
The bailout orchestrated by the three neighboring countries and European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet was meant to restore confidence in the bank before the reopening of markets on Monday after a tumultuous week of imploding share values at Fortis.
Insolvency fears caused the company’s shares to tumble to $7.56 on Friday, their lowest level in 15 years. The shares have lost more than three-fourths of their value since the ABN buy.
Fortis paid euro24 billion for its share of ABN in October 2007, and said prior to Sunday’s bailout it needed to raise around $7.3 billion in cash to maintain financial ratios as it integrated ABN’s Dutch retail operations next year.
Fortis had insisted it could meet that shortfall by selling other assets, but analysts were increasingly skeptical as there are few buyers in the market and many sellers.
Traders too, appeared to think the bank was over-leveraged. Based on its closing share price Friday, the bank’s total market capitalization was $17.5 billion half what it paid for ABN.
Nout Wellink, the head of the Dutch central bank, said the US financial crisis was partly to blame.
“What is happening in the US has most certainly had an impact on the financial sector in the rest of the world,” he told reporters. “Due to rumors, I have to say, Fortis became a bank in a special position.”
Monday Fortis said it would be left with excess capital of $13.8 billion after its transformation. However it noted that to the extent ABN Amro’s retail operations fetch less than $17.4 billion, capital would be depleted.
Fortis Chief Executive Filip Dierckx said in a statement Monday the moves would “ensure the financial strength and stability of our company going forward.”
As part of the bailout deal, Chairman Maurice Lippens will also be forced to resign and will be replaced by a candidate from outside the company.
In a press statement, Fortis said it expected to write down euro5 billion $7.3 billion worth of evaporated value in ABN, lost tax credits and losses on its derivatives portfolio.
The company said that it has written down 78% of the value of “collateralized debt obligation” CDOs it wrote itself.
CDOs are packages of loans such as mortgages, bundled and sold like bonds.
The deterioration in the bank’s portfolio is noteworthy, since few European banks have gone as far in revealing such woes, and analysts fear they will eventually do so.
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First Published: Mon, Sep 29 2008. 11 41 AM IST