Belgian, Dutch officials hold Fortis crisis talks
Monday, 29 September 2008

AFP, THE HAGUE - Dutch and Belgian officials scrambled to hammer out a plan on Sunday aimed at keeping the troubled banking and insurance group Fortis from becoming another victim of the global financial crisis.

Officials in Amsterdam and Brussels held crisis talks late Saturday and into the night Sunday on the Belgian-Dutch firm, whose shares have been hammered by liquidity concerns.
 
A spokesman for the Belgian Banking, Finance and Insurance Commission (CBFA) said officials hoped to find a solution by Sunday "afternoon or evening."
 
"There always are meetings and we are always examining initiatives that we will take with the BNB (Belgium's central bank)," the spokesman said.
 
Belgian officials were coordinating with authorities in the Netherlands overseeing Fortis, including the Dutch central bank, in order to find a solution, he said.
 
Amid concerns over Fortis, the BBC reported that British bank Bradford & Bingley would be nationalised soon and quickly sold to another bank or banks.
 
The turmoil in the European companies comes as US lawmakers and the White House sought to complete a 700-billion-dollar (479-billion-euro) Wall Street bailout plan before markets reopen on Monday.
 
In Brussels, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme held a cabinet meeting late Saturday to discuss the crisis hitting Fortis.
 
A Leterme spokesman refused to give more details, saying, "We will make a statement as soon as there is a solution, but not before that because it's unnecessary."
 
The Dutch central bank also held a meeting with Finance Minister Wouter Bos late Saturday, according to Dutch media. Officials contacted by AFP refused to confirm if the meeting took place or its topic.
 
French banking and insurance giant BNP Paribas and Dutch rival ING have emerged as the most serious potential buyers of Fortis but are demanding state guarantees, Belgian media reported.
 
Fortis shares lost more than a third of their value in the last two weeks amid market concerns over its solvency and its ability to raise funds to absorb its acquisition of former Dutch rival ABN Amro.
 
The group said late Friday it had replaced its chief executive, Herman Verwilst, with Filip Dierckx, head of its banking division.
 
After two days of steep slides in its share price, Fortis hastily arranged a news conference to assure clients that their deposits were safe and that it had ample funding.
 
But shares in the group only fell further, sliding nearly 21 percent Friday to their lowest level in 15 years.
 
Fortis's market value stood late Friday at 13 billion euros -- one third of what it was at the end of 2007. Despite assurances, some banking analysts said the group was looking increasingly vulnerable to a takeover.
 
Other potential buyers include Spain's Santander, Germany's Deutsche Bank or Britain's HSBC.
 
Fortis's Belgian rivals Dexia and KBC refused to comment on a report by the De Tijd newspaper that they could be involved in a rescue deal for the beleaguered bank.

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