Report: Apax nears €900m deal for Slovenian bank stake

The British private equity group has reportedly entered exclusive negotiations to buy a 30.6 percent stake in Slovenia’s biggest bank following Blackstone’s withdrawal from the auction.

Apax is reportedly the only interested buyer left in the auction of a 30.6 percent stake in Nova Ljubljanska Banca (NLB), the largest bank in Slovenia, being sold by the Belgian banking group KBC.

The UK buyout firm is the sole remaining bidder following The Blackstone Group’s withdrawal from the €900 million ($1.3 billion) auction, according to a report in the Financial Times.

KBC, which acquired a 34 percent minority interest in NLB in 2002, decided to exit the investment having been unable to acquire a large enough stake to have “sufficient say” in NLB’s operational management.

“As major differences of opinion amongst the shareholders remained, KBC decided to position itself as a purely financial investor in the Slovenian bank and to reassess its investment,” KBC said in a statement.

While KBC confirmed that its current 30.6 percent stake is up for sale, it would not comment on the auction process. Apax declined to comment.

On the basis of the €334 share price at which KLB issued shares in June, KBC’s stake is worth around €892 million, according to the Financial Times.

The biggest shareholder in NLB is the Slovenian government, which owns approximately 45 percent of the bank. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development sold its 4.5 percent stake in the bank Slovenian financial services group Poteza in July.

KBC has reaffirmed its strategy of developing a “second home market” in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia via regional acquisitions.

Private equity buyers have taken a keen interest in the financial services sector since the onset of the subprime crisis last year, as many banks have been in need of capital injections.

Last week Dallas-based Lone Star Funds bought 90.8 percent of ailing German bank IKB. The bank had been the earliest sub-prime casualty in Europe and the subject of rescue packages worth more than €8 billion.

Earlier this month PEO confirmed that Apax is in talks to sell a 10 percent stake in its management company with three sovereign wealth funds – The Australia Government Future Fund, the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation and an unnamed Japanese firm.