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The pain in Spain falls mainly on the cranes. The collapse of the country’s construction boom has hurt Spanish lenders. Yet Santander and BBVA, the country’s biggest banks, have so far proved resilient.
They reported first-half profits of €4.4bn and €2.8bn respectively; only a rise in bad loan provisions caused their earnings to slip 4 per cent compared with last year. Even then, Santander’s bad loans were 2.8 per cent of its book and BBVA’s 3.2 per cent, well below their peers’ 4.6 per cent average. Both banks are well capitalised and have a comfy mattress of provisions to fall back on. Santander’s decision to issue new shares equivalent to a 15 per cent stake in its Brazilian bank has therefore fuelled concerns that it may secretly need more capital.
That may be because Emilio Botín, Santander’s chairman, is more pessimistic about the bad debt outlook than he lets on. In that case, floating the Brazilian operation would really be a rights issue in drag.
But that explanation plays down the deal-making maestro that lurks within Mr Botín. He bought the Brazilian bank from ABN Amro two years ago and has since given it the Santander turnround treatment. Meanwhile, Brazil’s stock market is proving among the world’s best this year, returning over 78 per cent.
The unit, which contributed about a fifth of Santander’s first-half profits, earns fat loan spreads of more than 16 per cent. Based on its Brazilian peers, which trade on an average trailing price to tangible book multiple of 2.8 times, an initial public offering could value the business at more than €23bn, Goldman Sachs estimates. Why not cash out therefore, while investors believe everything looks good? Mr Botín has often done it before.
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