Global Investing

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.

Careful what you say

Bank executives beware. Turn your microphones off during what are likely to be stormy shareholder meetings this year.

Insults are likely to fly at many bank AGMs this year from shareholders angry at their board for losing billions, sending shares crashing, making ill-advised purchases or for their role in the global economic crisis. Bankers are unpopular after more than a year of grim news.

But an unnamed director at Santander lacked humility this week.  After heated questions from the floor about the Spanish bank’s purchase of U.S. lender Sovereign and its exposure to the alleged Bernie Madoff fraud, some shareholders applauded a critical comment.