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Santander confirms offer for RBS branches

Source: Reuters - Fri 18th Jun 2010

Spanish group Santander confirmed Friday it has made an offer for 318 British branches of Royal Bank of Scotland, pushing ahead with a further expansion of its UK network.

Santander, the eurozone's biggest lender, is the only remaining bidder for the branches, which RBS was forced to put up for sale by regulators, and clinching the deal would boost its existing British branch network by a quarter, giving it a 12 percent share of the market.

Sources familiar with the situation have suggested the RBS branches will fetch between 1.5 billion pounds and 1.8 billion pounds. The sale could be finalised by the autumn, one of the sources said Friday.

Shares in Santander were up 2.5 percent at 9.26 euros by 1:15 p.m. BST, when RBS was up 0.6 percent at 47 pence.

Under the deal Santander would inherit 1.8 million new British retail customers as well as 230,000 small business accounts and 1,200 larger corporate customers.

RBS, 83 percent government-owned after it was bailed out in the financial crisis, is selling the branches as a condition of winning European Union clearance for its state support.

The premises, clustered in the northwest and southeast of England, are being sold under the Williams and Glyn's brand, reviving an RBS subsidiary that was rebadged in the 1980s.

'GOOD FIT'

Official confirmation of Santander's interest came after the bank's deputy chairman, Matias Rodriguez Inciarte, told a conference Thursday that the RBS branches would fit its existing business "like a glove."

Inciarte also confirmed media reports that Santander had held talks about merging its U.S. operations with M&T Ban Corp.

Santander has long been seen as the front-runner to win the RBS auction as the cost savings from integrating the RBS branches into its existing UK operations enable it to pay more.

The bank has had a strong British presence since 2004, when it bought high street lender Abbey, and has since also snapped up Alliance & Leicester and the branch network of Bradford & Bingley.

The RBS branches initially attracted interest from a total of six suitors including National Australia Bank, Spain's BBVA, and Virgin Money, part of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

Santander's move comes as the European Union is carrying out financial health checks on its biggest banks to help reassure investors it can contain the euro zone debt crisis.

Santander has got the best ranking so far in European bank stress tests, a Spanish government source said Thursday.

In recent years Santander has diversified away from its home market to expand into the United States and Latin America as well as Britain.

The bank said last week 2010 earnings should be similar to 2009's strong result, and unveiled a $2.5 billion buy-up of Bank of America's 24.9 percent stake in Santander Mexico.

Santander said Friday it did not know when the RBS sale process might conclude, and did not disclose the size of its bid. RBS declined to comment.

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