GeriGündem Fortis’s destiny to be determined in talks for solution over weekend
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Fortis’s destiny to be determined in talks for solution over weekend

Fortis’s destiny to be determined in talks for solution over weekend
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Financial authorities are holding discussions over the future of Fortis this weekend, while the troubled Belgian-Dutch financial group is seeking to close key divestments deals.

As of Saturday, financial authorities were contacting other institutions, a source familiar with the situation told Reuters, although no particular solution was preferred and nothing concrete was likely to emerge before Sunday.

 

Fortis investors face a weekend of uncertainty after the banking and insurance group went out of its way on Friday to reassure them that it was solvent and in no danger of collapse following market talk the company could become another casualty of the credit crisis.

 

Veerle De Schryver, a spokeswoman for the Banking, Financial and Insurance Commission (CBFA), said: "The parties will discuss scenarios for Fortis in a cooperative way."

 

She declined to say exactly which parties would be involved in the talks. Another CBFA official told Flemish radio talks would include the government, market regulators and the Belgian central bank.

 

The Dutch central bank (DNB) declined to comment, although Nout Wellink, also a European Central Bank governing council member, cancelled a Chicago trip to return to the Netherlands.

 

Fortis is hoping to announce deals to sell off parts of its business by Monday in an attempt to show investors it can raise cash and restore confidence in the business, while buyers for the business may emerge over the weekend, local media reported.

 

As its shares plummeted more than 20 percent to 15 year-lows on Friday, Fortis called an emergency news conference to say its position was strong and that it would expand assets sales to as much as 10 billion euros ($14.6 billion) to raise cash.

 

After a fifth straight day of share declines, Fortis also named a new chief executive, nominating banking chief Filip Dierckx, 52, to replace interim CEO Herman Verwilst.

  

ASSET SALE SCRAMBLE

Dierckx and Fortis managers are scrambling to complete some deals this weekend, reported Dutch daily Financieele Dagblad, citing unnamed sources from Dutch bank ABN AMRO, which Fortis bought parts of last year.

 

"Fortis is working with all its power to sell business units during the crisis," the newspaper said.

 

Belgian newspaper De Tijd said the heads of Belgium's big banks and financial supervisors would hold talks over Fortis in a bid to restore confidence among savers and investors.

 

Several Belgian and Dutch media outlets cited France's BNP Paribas as a potential buyer. "A sustainable solution has to come in the coming days," a source told the Belgian paper.

 

At the core of market concerns is Fortis' liquidity, but the financial group reminded investors that it was sitting on a funding base of 300 billion euros. The European Central Bank has also made clear that it is ready to fund any liquidity shortfalls as European money markets remain effectively frozen.

 

"They are feeling strong but developments go fast. Look at what happened with Lehman Brothers. Of course, we cannot compare Fortis to Lehman, they're different banks, but things can change quickly," said Rob Koenders of Dutch asset manager Harmony Vermogensbeheer, which holds Fortis shares.

 

In Turkey, where Fortis is listed as a 94 percent-owned subsidiary worth 1.071 billion lira ($868.1 million), the group sought to reassure investors that its position remained strong.

 

"Fortis Turkey is still continuing its commercial activities successfully and it is growing in a stable fashion," the financial group said in a statement.

  

WEEKEND WOES

Weekends have become a tense time for financial institutions and investors because they have been marked recently by around-the-clock negotiations to save some prominent U.S. financial institutions.

 

Two weeks ago, U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection and Merrill Lynch agreed to be taken over by Bank of America over a long and tense weekend. Since then, U.S. insurer American International Group was rescued by U.S. authorities, and Washington Mutual was closed by the government and sold to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

 

This weekend, U.S. legislators are trying to reach an agreement on a proposed $700 billion bailout for Wall Street and questions are swirling about whether Belgian and Dutch financial and banking authorities will devise a plan to support Fortis.

 

A bailout deal in Washington could restore confidence in the European financial sector and together with a new CEO and a more open communication policy, Fortis could be saved, a senior Fortis insider told Reuters.

Verwilst told a conference call on Friday there was no way that Fortis would go bankrupt. The biggest vulnerability for Fortis right now would be depositors withdrawing funds and forcing the bank to shore up more capital than it is capable of.

 

Fortis shares, which closed down 20 percent at 5.2 euros on Friday, has lost more than two-thirds of its value since buying the Dutch operations and asset management arm of ABN AMRO as part of a three-bank, 70 billion euros buyout consortium.


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