Two shareholders race for shares

  • 2000-09-28
  • TBT staff
RIGA - A minority shareholder in Latvia's second largest bank Unibanka made an unofficial offer in the local press to buy an additional 15 percent of shares in an apparent attempt to thwart a buyout offer by Sweden's SEB, a move that angered stock market regulators.

High Bridge Services (HBS) said Sept. 20 it is ready to pay "no less than 2 lats"($3.25), convinced it may acquire another 15 percent stake in the bank.

SEB, the largest shareholder with 50.51 percent of Unibanka, offered last month to buy out minority shareholders for 1.9 lats per share.

HBS, which holds 9.9 percent of Unibanka, bought its shares from Parex Bank for 1.55 lats per share.

SEB officials said they would not change their offer price in light of the HBS announcement.

"In the event there remain shares in the market after the term of the offer expires, the market itself will have to find corresponding price for these shares," SEB said in a statement released Sept. 20.

The offer by SEB is in effect until Oct. 27. It can change the terms of its offer within 10 days of its expiration.

HBS spokesman Gregory Krasovsky said SEB already has announced that, after it acquires at least 75 percent of Unibanka shares, the bank will be excluded from the Riga Stock Exchange (RSE) list.

"If SEB acquires 75 percent we will not be interested in holding Unibanka stock anymore," said Krasovsky.

Krasovsky said that during the last few days several of Unibanka's shareholders have contacted HBS and announced their support to its offer.

He said Unibanka's minority shareholders are presently offering to sell their holdings for 2.1 to 2.3 lats per share. "No one has bid a price below 2.1 lats," said Krasovsky.

Several experts noted that the HBS's announcement does not indicate a real offer to buy the bank's shares but only a wish to acquire information.

Hansabanka broker Girts Ozols told BNS that in the event HBS indeed would begin buying Unibanka's shares for a price above 2 lats per share it could succeed in gathering the needed amount of shares.

"I will sell my Unibanka shares but I will wait for the last moment to do it in hopes that the price would jump up," said publishing designer Ilze, a small Unibanka shareholder who asked not to be identified. She purchased the bank's shares for 1.58 per share just a few months before the financial crisis in Russia. "When I sell it even for the price offered by SEB, I will make over 500 lats, and this is far more than any bank deposit would earn for me in these two years," she said.

But most brokers are skeptical of the HBS offer, calling it a bluff to raise SEB's offer.

The Stock Market Commission (SMC) said HBS has made an unofficial public offer to buy shares in Unibanka, which constitutes a violation of the law on securities. SMC said that because of the offering by SEB presently in effect, the offering by HBS should be regarded as competitive and as such it should be made in accordance with SMC regulations on share buy-outs.