Too much excitement can be a bad thing, as ABN Amro found to its cost. As it prepares to rejoin the public markets, the bailed-out Dutch bank's immediate aim is to be as boring as possible.
Back before the financial crisis, ABN Amro was a fast-growing financial adventurer fought over by Fred Goodwin's RBS and Barclays. Goodwin eventually won out in 2007 in what was the world's biggest banking takeover (and one of the most ill-starred) when an RBS-led group acquired the Dutch bank and promptly dismembered it. Barclays dodged a bullet.
Bailed out during the financial crisis, and reinvented in 2010, ABN Amro is now preparing an initial public offering in the coming days that will help the government recoup some of 22 billion euros ($23.7 billion) it spent rescuing the bank.
The bank, which now pitches itself as a safe-and-steady Dutch consumer lender, today posted a 33 percent rise in third quarter profit. That may help entice investors to an IPO that could value ABN Amro at about 16 billion euros.
Another attraction is that it's preparing to pay out as much as 50 percent of its net profit in dividends in 2017, compared with 40 percent in 2016. That compares well with fellow Dutch bank ING, which plans to pay out about 40 percent this year. Capital is rising (ABN's fully-loaded CET1 ratio rose to 14.8 percent in the quarter from 12.9 percent a year ago) and the lender has now been fined a manageable $1.3 million for failure in its money-laundering controls in Dubai, so that dividend target should be reachable.
And the timing of the IPO is good, coming during a European reporting period when some of the best performance came from banks such as ING and France's Societe Generale, which benefited from their once unfashionable retail branch networks.
That's not to say ABN's conservative business model means there's no risk at all. Both net interest income and underlying return on equity of 12.7 percent were unchanged in the quarter, while costs rose 8 percent . The bank needs to get a handle on that and wring more profit from the basic business of lending money. With interest rates in Europe at record lows, that's going to be hard. Even for a dull, Dutch consumer bank.
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