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Santander’s debt buy-back not necessarily a flop

Santander’s attempt to buy back 16.5 billion euros of asset-backed debt looks, at first glance like a bit of a flop: in the end investors only sold about 600 million euros of bonds by face value to the bank.

However, the result is not that surprising, for several reasons.

First, 16.5 billion euros was always a long shot. We don’t really know how much of the debt Santander had previously acquired in one-off trades in the secondary market, making it hard to say how much it could have bought back this time.

The tender offer, announced in July, grabbed a lot of headlines, but in fact Spanish, Dutch and other banks – Santander included – have anecdotally been quietly buying back their asset-backed debt ever since the market collapsed at the start of the credit crisis. Moreover, accounting changes introduced in Europe last year will have meant that bank investors who held the bonds won’t have had to mark the debt to market, reducing their need to sell.

Second, probably more relevant, the bonds had rallied in the secondary market after Santander’s announcement to match the levels the bank was offering in the buyback. That, combined with a recent market rally, meant that in many cases the debt was even trading above Santander’s offer price, according to an analyst.

Calling a bottom in Spain

Is the worst over for Spanish mortgage defaults? That’s one way to interpret Santander’s offer to buy back up to 16.5 billion euros of its outstanding asset-backed debt.

The securities are trading below par – more than 40 percent in some cases before today’s announcement – allowing the bank to reduce debt by buying them back. Cash-rich banks such as HSBC have launched similar buybacks this year to profit from the ABS market dislocation, but it’s the first time a Spanish bank has launched such a large public buyback.

Killing two birds with a partial IPO

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SPORTS YACHTINGBanks and insurers are looking for ways to bolster their capital, while having the flexibility to strike if there are acquisitions to be had on the cheap. To achieve these twin goals, Spain’s Santander and now British insurer Aviva intend to float minority stakes in subsidiaries.

Aviva’s chief executive Andrew Moss, who cut the insurer’s dividend with its first-half result on Thursday, argued that it must be ready to take advantage of acquisition opportunities. Moss plans to float 25-30 percent of Delta Lloyd so that Aviva’s 92 percent owned Dutch insurance unit can take part in the restructuring of the Benelux insurance market.

from Alexander Smith:

Santander wins with Brazil float

    Buying ABN AMRO may have bankrupted Royal Bank of Scotland and Fortis, but it has proved another coup for Spain's Santander whose chairman Emilio Botin has shown his eye for a bargain.
    After flipping Italy's Banca Antonveneta for an impressive profit before the ink was even dry on the contract to take it over from ABN, Botin is now looking to float Banco Santander Brasil, including another former ABN asset, Banco Real, once part of the Dutch bank's Latin American empire.
    With Brazilian valuations riding high and the IPO market flourishing, Citigroup reckons BSB could be worth as much as $30 billion. If so, the partial sale would again demonstrate Botin's ability to spot a good deal.
    Brazil is far too important to Santander -- it accounted for 18 percent of the bank's first half profits of 4.5 billion euros -- for Botin to give up control. But a flotation of 15 percent of the Brazilian bank could raise $4.5 billion of scarce capital while giving Botin another currency for shopping in South America. lt is already Brazil's third-largest bank by assets.
    Santander has been able to keep buying through the financial crisis, becoming the biggest bank in the euro zone as a result. Botin has also picked up Sovereign Bancorp in the U.S. and Alliance & Leicester, along with the remains of failed former building society Bradford & Bingley, in Britain.
    Floating the Brazilian business would crystallise its value. It might also boost Santander's own share price, but risks investors taking the view that a global roll-out of the bank's name and brand means the parent is becoming a conglomerate rather than an integrated group.
    The possibility of attracting a conglomerate discount won't have escaped Botin, whose family still owns nearly 2.5 percent of the $115 billion bank.
    Unlike his colleagues in the banks which have failed, Botin has his family fortune tied up in the business he runs. This, surely, is a powerful reason why Santander has avoided plunging into areas where the risk was far greater than the executives knew or cared. The bank has the strength to take advantage of the fashion for things Brazilian, and he can reflect that the acquisition which sunk RBS has done him no harm at all.

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