Sberbank Warsaw Stock Exchange

January 31, 2012


Russia’s Sberbank has expressed interest in buying a Polish bank, but has so far made little progress; now it may be considering another way to gain entry into Poland – a possible listing on the Warsaw Stock Exchange.

According to Poland’s Dziennik newspaper, quoting Russia’s Ria Novosti agency, German Gref, Sberbank’s CEO, says that he may be interested in listing on the WSE saying: “The Warsaw exchange is showing strong signs of progress. If we see a potential demand for our shares, it is possible that such a decision could be taken.”

The thought is that if Sberbank does decide on a listing – although analysts at Wood & Co., a central European investment bank, say the prospect is still remote – it could butter up local authorities, who so far have been sceptical of the idea of a Russian bank buying a Polish financial institution.

Speaking to reporters in Davos, Gref continued that his bank was still very interested in breaking into the Polish market.

Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported last year that Sberbank was looking at buying Poland’s Millennium Bank, whose troubled Portuguese parent is interested in selling, as well as Kredyt Bank, sold by Belgium’s KBC.

However, Sberbank has not been received with much enthusiasm by Polish regulators. The bank, majority owned by the Russian Central Bank, is being vetted by Poland’s internal intelligence agency, and still has not been able to arrange a meeting with the Financial Supervision Authority, the country’s banking regulator, according to Poland’s Rzeczpospolita newspaper.

Sberbank is gaining a presence in central Europe through its deal to buy Austria’s Volksbank International, which has operations in the former Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The deal – priced between ?585m and ?645m – is expected to close on February15.

However, the Polish banking market is much bigger than that of other CEE countries, and ownership changes are very likely, as cash-strapped parent companies look to sell off profitable Polish subsidiaries in order to shore up their bottom lines.

Selling Polish banks to west European institutions – many of which are in deep trouble – will not be easy, while Sberbank, which posted a $10.2bn profit for last year, a 75 per cent increase over 2010, is flush.

It might make sense for Polish regulators to hold their noses and let the old imperial master grab a foothold in the Polish market.