Santander, the eurozone’s largest bank, has quelled rumours that
it is interested in the sale of General Electric’s (GE) stake in
Garanti Bank. A spokesman from the Spanish bank told RBI
the bank is not involved in the process, ending speculation that it
is planning to invest in Turkey.

GE has said it is “considering strategic
options” for selling a 20.85% stake in Garanti, Turkey’s largest
bank by market capitalisation (see
RBI 627

Intesa Sanpaolo, HSBC, Standard Chartered, La
Caixa and BBVA are among the banks still linked to the possible
stake sale, worth around $3.7bn.

A leading analyst told RBI there was
one “major question” that remained for all the banks regarded as
possible suitors of Garanti.

“Would they be comfortable with a minority
stake?” he said.

Instead he believed that the bank was looking
for a private equity investor that would be less likely to want an
outright takeover.

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“There must be a strong likelihood that a major
private equity player, such as Tamasek in Singapore, will be eyeing
up the GE stake in Garanti,” he said.

The analyst added that Intesa might be regarded
as a strong candidate although “there would of course be capital
issues”. Raising capital before buying the share would be necessary
if Barclays or Deutsche Bank were to pursue a stake in the bank, he

Intesa first considered a stake in Garanti in
2004, but was unsure about the Turkish market at the time. The
Turkish economy has since boasted one of the strongest performances
during the financial crisis, with the banking sector posting record
profits in 2009.

Garanti was no exception, with a net profit of
TRY2.96bn ($1.9bn) for fiscal 2009 – a 69% increase compared to a
year earlier. Its retail net profits also rose by 16% to

The bank’s chief executive, Ergun Özen, said
the bank had “never lost faith in the national economy even during
the dire moments of the global crisis”.

Its focus for 2010 is to continue to grow its
deposits, which rose 19% to TRY62.8bn in 2009, a market share of

The bank’s strategy to expand its customer base
has proved successful with branch numbers reaching 792, 62 more
than a year ago.

It also has the most widespread point-of-sale
network in Turkey with around 360,000 terminals and has a credit
card portfolio of 8m.  It attracted 1m new customers in 2009,
bringing the total to 9m.