Alior’s Main Holder Said to Pick UBS for Sale of 30% Stake

Alior Bank SA’s main shareholder, Carlo Tassara SpA, is working with UBS AG to sell at least 30 percent of the bank that held Poland’s biggest initial public offering last year, three people familiar with the matter said.

UBS has until the end of 2013 to sell the stake in Alior, which owns Poland’s third-largest branch network, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan is private. UBS may invite bids next month, the people said. The bank’s market value is about 4.6 billion zloty ($1.5 billion).

“It is a fast-growing, innovative business, led by one of the strongest management teams in Poland,” with the third-largest network built in “just” four years, Armen Gasparyan and David Nangle, banking analysts at Renaissance Capital Ltd., said in a note to investors yesterday.

Tassara officials didn’t respond to e-mails and telephone calls seeking comment. Alior referred questions to Tassara. A UBS spokeswoman, Stephanie Aneto, declined to comment.

Poland has been one of the most active markets in Europe for deals involving banks and insurers in the last three years. Spain’s Banco Santander SA acquired Bank Zachodni WBK SA and Kredyt Bank SA. Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International AG bought Polbank SA. German insurer Talanx AG purchased Towarzystwo Ubezpieczen i Reasekuracji Warta SA.

Share Sales

Less than a week ago, the Polish government sold a $1.7 billion stake, or 12.2 percent, in PKO Bank Polski SA, the country’s largest lender. UniCredit SpA, Italy’s largest bank, is selling as much as 9.1 percent of Poland’s Bank Pekao SA.

Alior declined 2.7 percent to 71.70 zloty by 1:24 p.m. in Warsaw trading, cutting to 26 percent the advance since going public in December. Poland’s WIG20 index was little changed.

Alior was founded in 2008, broke even after 28 months and had a 23 percent return on equity in the first nine months of last year in eastern Europe’s biggest banking market. The lender sold 2.1 billion zloty of shares in its IPO. A third of that was new stock earmarked to boost lending and fight competition as Santander, billionaire Leszek Czarnecki’s Getin Noble Bank SA and Raiffeisen stepped up expansion.

UBS’s investment bank is led by former Bank of America Corp.investment banker Andrea Orcel, who helped Santander buy Zachodni in 2011.

Potential Interest

The Alior stake may attract bids from Vienna-based Erste Group Bank AG, BNP Paribas SA of Paris or Milan-based Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Marta Czajkowska-Baldyga, an analyst at KBC Group NV, said by phone from Warsaw. BNP and Intesa tried to buy a bank in Poland two years ago and were among bidders for Bank Zachodni. Russia’s OAO Sberbank CEO Herman Gref has also said he wants to buy a bank in Poland.

A purchaser who exceeds 33 percent will have to announce a public tender to buy as much as 66 percent of shares from other investors, according to Polish law.

Erste Chief Executive Officer Andreas Treichl’s stated goal is to become “the savings bank between Germany and Russia.” Erste got there in Romania and the Czech and Slovak republics, where its units are the biggest banks. In Hungary, Erste is No. 2 after OTP Bank Nyrt. In soon-to-be European Union member Croatia, it’s the third-biggest. In the entire former communist part of Europe, Erste trails only UniCredit SpA and Raiffeisen.

The only major central European economy where Erste doesn’t have a full operation is Poland. Treichl has said for 10 years that he’d like to buy there, and repeated that intention at the 2012 and 2011 shareholder meetings. He told WirtschaftsBlatt on Jan. 23 that a purchase could come soon.

Sberbank Expansion

Michael Mauritz, an Erste spokesman, declined to comment when asked if the bank would be interested in the stake. A BNP Paribas official also declined to comment.

Sberbank acquired a foothold in eastern European by buying Vienna-based Volksbanken International AG last year. It has been in talks to buy an Alior stake from Tassara before, Il Sole 24 Ore reported on Dec. 30, without saying how it obtained the information. “Our interest in the market is long-term rather than immediate,” Alexander Baziyan, a spokesman, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Sberbank may meet resistance from Poland’s Komisja Nadzoru Finansowego watchdog, newspaper Parkiet reported on Jan. 17, without saying where it got the information. KNF may demand Alior’s buyer’s home country have a credit rating at least on par with Poland’s A-, which would rule out Sberbank, Parkiet said.

“Sberbank acknowledges a strong and solid regulatory framework in Poland that helps sustainability of the banking system against the crisis,” Sberbank’s spokesman said. A KNF spokesman, Lukasz Dajnowicz, declined to comment yesterday.

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