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Unicredito Italiano confirms formal offer for Zivnostenska Banka

Italian bank Unicredito Italiano last week confirmed it has made a formal offer for an 85.16 percent stake in Zivnostenska Banka, the last major Czech bank not in foreign hands. Other reported contenders in the race have declined to comment on the Zivno sale. However, fellow Italian bank, Banca Intesa, one of the eight likely bidders, has ruled itself out of contention. HVB Group was tipped to make a formal offer ahead of the deadline, which one potential bidder said fell last Thursday. That deadline now seems to be in question. Sanpaolo-IMI spokeswoman, Antonella Vicenzino, said the deadline for formal offers has been extended to an unspecified date. "I cannot say at this point whether or not we have made a formal offer for Zivnostenska," added the spokeswoman for the Italian bank.

Unicredito spokeswoman Viviana Vestrucci confirmed last Thursday that the bank had made a formal offer for Zivno, but could not provide any further details. While representatives of HVB Czech Republic reiterated that they had originally provided a written expression of interest, they declined to comment further. But the head of HVB Group's Central and Eastern Europe division, Martin Grull was quoted in Friday's edition of Hospodarske Noviny saying that the bank would make a bid for Zivno.

Other potential bidders for Zivno were tight-lipped last week. German bank Bayerische Landesbank and Austrian bank Volksbank were unable to comment on the sale and representatives of GE Capital Bank and Citibank said they were not able to confirm or deny buying interest. Potential buyers for the majority stake held by troubled German bank Bankgesellschaft Berlin AG (BGB) had until May 27 to provide a "written expression of interest to participate in the sale process" to sale adviser Schroeder Salomon Smith Barney in London. Representatives of Schroeder said last week that they could not discuss potential buyers or when the deadline for final offers would fall.

Unicredito Italiano, seen as a frontrunner for the purchase after failing last year to buy Komercni Banka, and HVB confirmed two weeks ago that they had provided a written expression of interest and another Italian bank, Sanpaolo-IMI, confirmed indirectly that it was still in the game. As the Czech National Bank is currently not issuing any new banking licenses, analysts believe the stake in Zivno is a last chance for international banks to get a solid foothold in the Czech retail banking market. Analysts believe that Unicredito is very keen to gain access to the Czech market to complement its operations throughout Central Europe, and this could push the bidding up. Economists have estimated that the deal could net E150 million to E200 million for BGB. An announcement on the name of Zivno's new owner is expected within three months.

(Prague Business Journal 24.vi.02)

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