Central bank might sell its stake in Optiva Bank

  • 1999-08-26
  • Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - Rumors of a possible new major investor in Optiva Bank caused some excitement on the stock exchange last week.

The share price of Optiva Bank rose twice in August, when investors were expecting the central bank to sell its majority stake in Optiva Bank to a new investor.

Eesti Pank, Estonia's central bank, admits that several negotiations have been held with different investors for the sale of its majority holding in Optiva Bank, but no concrete agreements have been reached so far.

"The negotiations started a long time ago, and we are planning to sell the stake," said Andrus Kuusmann, Eesti Pank's spokesman. "We don't know when it will happen, because we have not set any time limits. It would be good if it happened this year, but the next year would also be very good."

Eesti Pank assumed control over the troubled Forekspank and Investeerimispank on Oct. 1 last year. The bank was renamed Optiva Bank after the merger.

The central bank bought a majority share in both merging banks for about 250 million kroons ($17 million).

Several sources claim that Finland's Sampo insurance group may be interested in acquiring a majority stake in Optiva Bank, the Baltic News Service reported Aug. 18.

Olavi Laido, general director of Sampo's Estonian subsidiary, admits that neither he nor the Finnish office has heard of such things.

"Sampo is active in insurance business. It is unthinkable that a company, which is presently involved in merging insurance companies, is also dealing with the purchase of banks," said Laido.

Olavi Lind, a broker from Hansapank, said that rumors about Optiva Bank have been going on for half a year now. He believes that Sampo is still specializing in insurance and the Scandinavian Merita Nordbanken, which has a representative in Estonia, might be the potential candidate instead.

"But they have said that they do not want to expand through the purchase of other banks," said Lind.

He said that if the transaction is to happen, the share price will be over 10 kroons. The market price of an Optiva share closed at 11.80 kroons on Aug. 23.

The share price made two sharp moves in August, rising 9 percent Aug. 6 and 5 percent Aug. 17.

Lind said that the prices are moving slightly up and down on the stock exchange all the time, because the market is not liquid and there is not much concrete information.

He also said that the economic results of the Optiva Bank for the first half-year were not as good as to result in a price increase. Optiva Bank reported a profit of 8.7 million kroons for the first half of the year. The bank had 3.3 billion kroons in total assets.