DealZone

Haider’s heirs disown troubled Hypo bank

When the late Joerg Haider, the hard-right populist governor of the southern Austrian state of Carinthia, sold most of his government’s stake in Hypo Group Alpe Adria in 2007, he said, beaming: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Carinthia is rich.”

BayernLB, which like many other German landesbanken appears to have never met a toxic asset it didn’t like, had just paid 1.65 billion euros for a 50 percent stake in Hypo. Around half of that went into Haider’s government’s coffers.

Haider/Porsche

True to his pork-barrel politics, Haider used the funds to, among other things, subsidise Carinthian teenagers’ driving licence fees, scrap kindergarten fees, and pay out cash to Carinthian families to “offset inflation” in 2008, conveniently timed shortly before an election.

This worked to cement Haider’s image as the generous leader looking after the man on the street. But since his death in a car crash last year, it shows that the basis of this policy was not sustainable. Hypo is now in urgent need of another year-end emergency capital injection of more than 1 billion euros, after it went cap in hand to the Austrian government and BayernLB for 1.6 billion euros last year already.

Hypo’s breakneck expansion in the former Yugoslavia is the main reason for its continued losses this year. Haider and his confidante, ex-CEO Wolfgang Kulterer, started and presided over this expansion, which let Hypo’s balance sheet balloon to more than four times what it was in 2002. (This is the same Kulterer who pleaded guilty last year of false accounting during his time as Hypo CEO.)Hypo HQ

Magnum’s Opel

General Motors may soon get the long-delayed green light to sign over carmaker Opel to Canada’s Magna. EU antitrust regulators have no plans to block Magna’s acquisition of GM’s European arm, a European Commission spokesman said in Brussels, easing fears the transaction could run out of gas in debate over German state aid to the mostly German-staffed company.

Magna hopes to conclude the deal within weeks of signing a contract. That should be that, right? Well, hardly. For one thing, Spanish workers at Opel’s plant at Figueruelas have voted to strike in protest at cuts included in the Magna package. And European politicians say GM and the Opel Trust should have the option of reopening the bidding process.

But the jilted other bidder, RHJ, says it is no longer interested in doing a deal, so going back to the auction block is probably a nonstarter. And with European auto titan Volkswagen saying sales will likely stay stalled next year, the political will to get a deal done is about all Opel has going for it right now. The company is poised to run out of cash by mid-January.