Sberbank May Sell 7.6 Percent Stake in September

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May 31 – The timeline for selling off a 7.6 percent stake in OAO Sberbank, Eastern Europe’s largest lender, may be approved at a Cabinet meeting scheduled for May 31, a person familiar with the matter told reporters.

State-controlled Sberbank, with over 11 trillion rubles (US$340 billion) in assets, is hopeful a stake sale in it, as part of the nation’s wider privatization program, will happen as soon as September.

Bank Rossii First Deputy Chairman Alexei Ulyukayev said in January that the government wanted Sberbank’s stock price to get “closer to 100 rubles” (US$3) before it offered shares. Sberbank shares have tumbled by almost 20 percent after hitting the 100- ruble mark in February for the first time in seven months.

“I don’t think the window earlier this year has been missed,” Anton Karamzin, Sberbank’s deputy chairman, told reporters. “While some of the ingredients of a successful deal may have been in place from time to time, some of the other ingredients have not been there.”

Karamzin said Sberbank, as the country’s “proxy stock” had been “unfortunate” to drop as much as it has due to risk aversion for Russian equities.

Sberbank, which controls around half of household deposits in Russia, rose 4.5 percent after a person with knowledge of the matter said the government plans to sell a 7.6 percent stake. The Bloomberg Russia-U.S. Equity Index surged from the lowest level since Oct. 5, while futures on Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS Index fell 0.2 percent.

The government owns 57.6 percent of Moscow-based Sberbank through the central bank and has postponed selling part of that stake several times since the original September 2011 target date, citing market turmoil.

The sale of the 7.6 percent stake in Sberbank was scheduled for last September but was postponed after global risk-aversion wiped around US$1.5 billion off the stake’s value. Russia’s central bank is selling the stake.

Last week, Sberbank entered exclusive talks with bailed-out Franco-Belgian lender Dexia to buy Turkish Denizbank.

“If the acquisition happens, it will be our biggest purchase to date but we can comfortably afford it in terms of our capital adequacy position,” Anton Karamzin, chief financial officer at Sberbank, told reporters. He declined to comment on the price and timing of a possible deal.

Sberbank snapped up the international arm of Austria’s Volksbank International AG in February for 505 million euros (US$633 million), as a springboard for further expansion in Europe.

Sberbank CEO German Gref, said then Poland and Turkey are particularly interesting markets for the lender. Sberbank is targeting 5 percent to 7 percent of its revenue to come from foreign operations by 2014.