29 Sep 2008

Crisis talks on Fortis financial group

8:16 am on 29 September 2008

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet held emergency talks on Sunday with Dutch and Belgian ministers over the the troubled banking and insurance group Fortis.

Mr Trichet, who as ECB head is responsible for safeguarding financial stability in the euro zone, joined Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme in Brussels in a bid to secure the future of Fortis, including a partial or full sale or some form of state intervention, a source familiar with the situation said.

BNP Paribas and ING Group both declined comment on reports that they could buy all or part of Fortis or Dutch bank ABN AMRO, which Fortis bought a year ago.

Fortis' board held an emergency meeting on Sunday, a source close to the board said, and new CEO Filip Dierckx then joined Belgian and Dutch ministers and central bankers meeting with Trichet nearby at the Belgian parliament.

A document Dierckx carried into the meeting, photographed by Reuters, listed a range of options including "Fortis to sell stake in ABN AMRO for x billion euros to xx" and "governments of Belgium and Luxembourg to invest xx billion euros in Fortis".

The document also said Fortis Chairman Maurice Lippens, blamed by some shareholders for poor communication over the bank's troubles, would resign.

Luxembourg Budget and Treasury Minister Luc Frieden said in an RTL television interview that the Dutch, Luxembourg and Belgian governments would all buy stakes in the cross-border bank unless a foreign bank buyer emerged.

The problems at Fortis, whose shares dropped by a third last week on investor concerns about its liquidity and funding, stem from last year's 70 billion euro purchase of ABN with partners Royal Bank of Scotland and Spain's Santander.

The turmoil comes as US lawmakers and the White House sought to complete a $US700-billion Wall Street bailout plan.

And in Britain, the BBC reported Bradford & Bingley bank would be nationalised soon and quickly sold to another bank or banks.