Greece’s Alpha, Eurobank to merge

Greece’s second and third largest lenders, Eurobank and Alpha Bank, on Monday announced plans to merge in order to better withstand the country’s acute financial crisis.

ATHENS — Greece’s second and third largest lenders, Eurobank and Alpha Bank, on Monday announced plans to merge in order to better withstand the country’s acute financial crisis.

The widely anticipated move would create Greece’s biggest bank, and will see a C500 million ($720 million) investment from a Qatari investment fund, Paramount Services Holding Ltd., officials from the two banks said.

The deal was immediately welcomed by the country’s Socialist government and caused shares to surge on the Athens Stock Exchange. The banking sector as a whole closed the day 27 per cent higher with National Bank of Greece, the country’s largest lender, posting a 29 per cent gain.

The benchmark General Index in Athens ended 14.4 per cent higher at 1,006.59, rebounding past the 1,000-point threshold just one session after falling to a 15-year low under 900 points.

Greece is in the throes of a major financial crisis, and only avoided bankruptcy after two international bailouts agreed over the past two years, worth a combined total of C219 billion ($315 billion).

The country remains cut off from bond markets because investors demand prohibitively high rates to lend it money over the long-term — the yield on the 10-year bonds is at 18 per cent, compared with the benchmark German rate of 2.18 per cent.

The Greek central bank and government have repeatedly urged banks to consolidate, arguing it will afford them greater protection from the fallout of the crisis.

“The decision by the two banks to proceed with a merger is a positive development,” Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said. “This initiative demonstrates that today’s crisis could serve as a corrective opportunity and provide a boost in the financial sector as well as in the real economy.”

The deal, which requires regulatory approval, would create Greece’s largest bank by assets — C146 billion ($211.5 billion) — with C80 billion ($115 billion) in deposits.

The terms of the merger agreement include an exchange ratio of 5 new Alpha Bank ordinary shares for every 7 Eurobank EFG ordinary shares.

In February, Alpha rejected a takeover bid from National Bank of Greece, arguing that the proposed terms were not beneficial to its shareholders.

“At a time when it is hoped Greece will experience the first signs of a recovery through the implementation of reforms and the support of its European partners, the new bank will aim to contribute to the resumption of growth in Greece and our country’s connectivity with its neighbouring markets in Southeastern Europe,” Alpha Bank chairman Yannis Costopoulos said.

He added the deal conveyed a positive message to international markets, “which were worried that everything was going to the Devil” in Greece.