BNP Joins UniCredit, Santander in Race for Rabobank Unit

BNP Paribas SA, France’s largest bank, placed a non-binding bid to buy a Polish agricultural lender from Rabobank Groep as it seeks to expand in the European Union’s largest eastern economy.

BNP offered to buy 99% of Warsaw-based Bank Gospodarki Zywnosciowej SA, its Polish unit said in a regulatory statement today. Italy’s UniCredit SpA earlier made a non-binding bid for Rabobank’s unit and Spain’s Banco Santander SA is considering buying the Polish lender, the two banks said last month. BGZ, as the Polish bank is known, has a market value of 3.66 billion zloty ($1.2 billion).

“Poland is one of the most promising countries in Europe as it has better economic and loan growth prospects than other states,” Michal Konarski, a Warsaw-based analyst at BRE Bank SA, said by phone today. “BGZ, which has a stronger corporate business than BNP in Poland, would complement the French bank’s operations.”

The country has been among Europe’s most active markets for takeover deals involving banks and insurers since 2010. PKO Bank Polski SA, Poland’s biggest lender, agreed in June to buy Nordea Bank AB’s Polish assets, while Santander acquired Bank Zachodni WBK SA last year and merged it with Kredyt Bank SA in January to create the country’s third-largest bank by assets.

Book Value

UniCredit owns a majority stake in Bank Pekao SA, which is Poland’s second-biggest lender. BNP’s Warsaw-based unit is the 12th-largest bank with 21.1 billion zloty of assets. BGZ assets were 35.8 billion zloty at the end of September, while its nine-month net income jumped 73 percent to 134.3 million zloty from a year earlier, it said in a regulatory filing on Nov. 5.

BGZ shares gained 0.6 percent to 71.2 zloty at 2:21 p.m. in Warsaw, extending this year’s gain to 30 percent this year. The bank trades at its book value, compared with the industry’s average of 1.8 times, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Rabobank, the Utrecht, Netherlands-based lender, is considering various options for its Polish unit, including selling it, BGZ said on Oct. 30. Rabobank bought a 40 percent stake in BGZ in a public bid for 1.25 billion zloty last year.

The Polish regulator hasn’t been notified of any intent to sell or buy BGZ, Chairman Andrzej Jakubiak told reporters in Warsaw today. The watchdog will be “very careful” when it comes to further banking mergers in Poland as “concentration” on the Polish market is “close to optimal,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek Polska on Nov. 4. The financial regulator will “closely” monitor the biggest 10 banks, Jakubiak said today.

BNP offered 1 billion euros ($1.34 billion) for Rabobank’s Polish unit, Puls Biznesu reported on Oct. 25, without saying where it got the information. Its offer was “significantly” higher than UniCredit’s bid, according to the newspaper.

Poland, the only EU country to avoid a recession amid the recent global crisis, expects its economic growth to quicken to 2.5 percent next year from 1.5 percent in 2013, according to government forecasts. Total lending has jumped 31 percent since the end of 2009 to 841 billion zloty, according to data on the Polish financial regulator’s website.

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