(Bloomberg News) European banks are struggling to find buyers for at least $32 billion of businesses earmarked for sale as the sovereign-debt crisis drags on, raising the likelihood they'll have to settle for fire-sale prices.
European Union lenders including Deutsche Bank AG and France's Societe Generale SA have announced plans to shed more than $1 trillion of assets over the next two years to bolster capital. On top of selling loans, the banks put at least 50 businesses up for sale in markets spanning the globe, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
"Expected valuations on many assets that are going be sold will need to come down," said Eric Richard, co-head of the financial institutions group in Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Credit Suisse Group AG. "There is a lot of backlog."
While some of the assets are prized possessions in emerging markets such as China and eastern Europe, buyers are balking amid concern over the future of the euro region and the value of sovereign debt, as well as financing limitations. That may lead the region's banks, already trading near record low valuations, to swallow losses on the sales.
Denizbank AS, the Turkish lender of Dexia SA, and Bank Millennium SA, a Warsaw-based unit of Banco Comercial Portugues SA, are examples of profitable businesses in attractive markets that have seen bidders drop out, according to people familiar with those discussions. Dexia spokesman Benoit Gausseron said "there are several candidates" for Denizbank, without elaborating. A BCP spokesman declined to comment.
Pressure on European banks to raise funds is growing as they write down sovereign debt and seek to comply with rules requiring higher capital ratios. Standard & Poor's said Monday that Germany, France and four other European states may be stripped of their AAA credit ratings as the debt crisis prompts 15 euro nations to be put on review for possible downgrade.
Banks may be forced to raise 106 billion euros ($142 billion) by the middle of 2012 to meet guidelines from the European Banking Authority, the regulator estimated in October. A revised figure is scheduled to be released today.
The benefits of getting capital-consuming assets off their balance sheets may outweigh the disadvantages of selling at low valuations, said Alain Garnier, a partner at Linklaters LLP specializing in financial-services M&A transactions.
"Keeping these assets can in some cases cost them," said Garnier. "It's not that some of these activities are loss- making, but that they consume a lot of capital."
European banks in the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index traded at 0.57 times book value last month, the lowest since February 2009, just months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Western European bank units sold at an average of 2 times book value from 2005 to 2007, while this year they have sold for 0.6 times, according to Bloomberg data.