SEB buys good name in the Baltics for $22 mln

  • 2000-11-02
Confronted by persistent opposition from small shareholders of two Latvian and Lithuanian banks to its outstanding offer, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) changed the offered price last week in an unprecedented move on the Baltics' securities market.

Some analysts believe, however, that such behaviour could hurt SEB's further plans in Central and Eastern Europe.

Formally accepted and vigorously greeted by most of the small shareholders of Latvian Unibanka and Lithuanian Vilniaus Bankas, the move, however, poses questions about business ethics and the legislation which should protect the interests of small shareholders in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

The price change of the outstanding offer could cost SEB up to 2.7 million lats in Latvia and up to 73 million litas in Lithuania, BNS estimates show.

Taken together, SEB risks the additional expenditures of up to 22.5 million dollars (27 million euros) in a move which could be seen both as an attempt to improve SEB's name in the two countries as well as to smoothly swallow up major part of the banking market in the Baltics.

SEB's rival Swedbank is on its way right now to get Lithuania's largest state-owned bank Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank) through its Estonian subsidiary Hansapank.

However, the additional price for SEB in the takeover of the two major banks should not be seen as extraordinary since SEB saw its January-September operating results grow 92 percent last year.

The offering periods in Unibanka and Vilniaus Bankas are running until November 13 and 17, respectively. SEB has increased its offer for Unibanka and Vilniaus Bankas to 2.05 lats and 50 litas per share from the previous 1.90 lats and 40 litas.

On several occasions before, SEB said that the previous price offer was absolutely fair and it did not intend to change it.

Both Lithuanian and Latvian market participants in general congratulated SEB's decision, however, some strong reservation could also be heard.

Lithuanian finance analyst Margarita Starkeviciute sees the new SEB offer as a positive sign for the market. "It shows that if small shareholders unite, they can defend their rights. I think that additional money will appear on the market and this can positively influence prices of other shares. Also it will improve the investment climate on our stock market," Starkeviciute said.

Finance broker Kestutis Kupsys said that SEB, which offered 40 litas a share earlier, "did not evaluate the knowledge and expectations of market participants and wanted to fool the public. However, when SEB failed to do this, it had to change its offer."

Starkeviciute said that this story once again showed that the price fixed on the Lithuanian market could not be called a market price. (SEB previously linked its offered price to the 28 litas price on the stock exchange.)

Starkeviciute said that only foreign shareholders rather than local shareholders convinced SEB that the 28 litas price was not the market price.

However, Arvydas Jacikevicius, a broker in the finance brokerage company Suprema, said that there were investors who would not sell shares at a price of 50 litas. He said that even if SEB offered 60 litas a share, the supply would not increase much.

SEB has soothed shareholders, but failed to clear up market participants' doubts about the transparency of actions by the Swedish bank.

Vladimiras Streckis, director of the securities department at Taupomasis Bankas (Savings Bank), said he intended to ask a financial brokers' ethics commission to analyze actions by SEB and the board of Vilniaus Bankas.

Investors were misled because somebody could have been aware of the increase in the offer price beforehand, Streckis said.

Trading in Vilniaus Bankas' shares on the Lithuanian stock exchange increased considerably a few days before SEB's announcement.

Virgilijus Poderys, chairman of the Lithuanian Securities Commission, however, said there was no evidence to suggest that SEB or Vilniaus Bankas sought to manipulate the market.

Julius Niedvaras, chairman of the board of Vilniaus Bankas, denied that the board misled shareholders by advising them not to believe in speculations that SEB was offering an unfair price and to accept the 40 litas offer price.

Now the board will send out similar letters to the shareholders, recommending them to accept the 50 litas price, Niedvaras was quoted as saying by the daily Lietuvos Rytas.

Latvijas Krajbanka (Latvian Savings Bank) broker Artis Goba said he is sort of disappointed in SEB as a global financial market player.

He said the precedent would not allow SEB to fully implement its plans in Poland and other countries where the bank will be willing to express share buy-out offers.(Baltic Business Weekly).