22 Dec 2010 13:14

Sberbank mulling Volksbank division buy - source

MOSCOW. Dec 22 (Interfax) - Sberbank is thinking about buying the East European division of Austria's Volksbank group, a source at the bank told Interfax.

"We're looking at it. It's of interest," the source said.

Sberbank President and Chairman German Gref declined to comment for the press about reports the bank's purchase is being negotiated. "We have no comment," he said.

Not long ago, Der Standard reported - citing unnamed sources in banking circles - that Volksbank had put 51% of the stock in Volksbank International up for sale, and that this was being organized by Ithuba Capital AG. Germany's DZ Bank and France's BPCE, which own the other 49% in equal shares, may also sell their holdings, the paper said. The controlling stake in the bank has been appraised at EUR 2 billion.

Gref told reporters that Sberbank "is not setting the goal of snatching up everything that's not tied down. We make no secret of the fact that we have the goal of absorptions. But we weigh each case a hundred times."

Gref identified several principles by which Sberbank is ready to acquire other financial structures. "First, we are a strategic investor, we buy that which we can control. Second, we want to purchase in those regions that interest us, that provide a return on equity comparable to the Russian (roughly 20% ROE). Third, we want to buy that which we are able to digest and that which will give us significant synergy," Gref said.

Sberbank continues to weigh the possible acquisition of Kazakhstan's BTA Bank, he said.

As to the possibility of Sberbank acquiring an investment business, Gref said that question will addressed next year. "I think that we'll decide on that next year. Our bank would immediately be one of the market leaders," he said.

Sberbank already has a very strong corporate-financing division, he said. "The corporate financing division earned as much money this year as did all of VTB Capital," he said.

There is no point in rushing the investment-business question, Gref said. "We'll receive (privatization) mandates," he said. "In our case, there is no need for haste, haste is needed when catching fleas," he said.

Sberbank is taking under advisement all options for developing investment business - from acquisitions to green field (starting a business from scratch), Gref said. The bank needs its own investment bank, he said. "The primary condition is that we are a total-control shareholder," he said.