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ABN Amro shares fall amid takeover worries

Shares in ABN Amro Holding NV plummeted as much as 10 percent on Friday over worries that competing takeover bids for the company might fall apart.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Shares in ABN Amro Holding NV plummeted as much as 10 percent on Friday over worries that competing takeover bids for the company might fall apart.

A Fortis spokeswoman said a bond sale the bank had planned could be delayed. But she that only demonstrates how flexible the bank is in choosing how and when it will finance its part of the deal, rather than any serious financing difficulty.

ABN shares were still down 5.2 percent at 33.25 euros ($44.77), as investors appeared to re-evaluate risk that the Fortis bid, part of a consortium led by Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, could lose out to a bid from Barclays PLC, or that both could fail.

The RBS led deal is worth 38.07 euros ($52.41) per share. Barclays is offering 33.71 euros ($46.41) per share.

Either takeover, if successful, would be the largest in the history of the financial industry. ABN Amro shareholders are to review the bids on Sept. 20.

The slump in share prices comes amid a wider slump in global equities amid worries a credit crunch will hurt growth and earnings, leading the European Central Bank and other global central banks to inject billions of dollars into money markets to calm liquidity worries.

Friday was the first day since April that ABN Amro shares have traded below, rather than between, the two offer competing prices. Analyst Dirk Peeters of KBC Securities said the share movement didn't necessarily mean investors think Barclays is going to win.

"They're scared," he said. "They view Barclays' share price as providing a bottom for ABN Amro."

The Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad first reported Fortis's Chief Financial Officer Gilbert Mittler as saying on the sidelines of the company's half-year earnings review Thursday that a planned 2 billion euros ($2.8 billion) sale of bonds could be delayed due to weak demand on credit markets.

Fortis plans to pay 24 billion euros ($33 billion) for its share of ABN Amro _ notably the Dutch operations and its asset management business.

Spokeswoman Liliane Tackaert said Mittler's point was not that the bank couldn't place the bonds, but that because of a 10 billion euros ($13.8 billion) "bridge" credit line in place, it had the flexibility to choose when and how it fills in the financing.

"I think we'd all agree that for instance (Thursday) would not have been the opportune moment" to sell the bonds she said. "We can afford to wait two weeks or two months, or any amount of time. That's the point of the bridge financing."

Peeters agreed, saying Fortis was well-capitalized and he couldn't foresee any problem with the bank financing its end of the deal.

The 10 percent fall in ABN's share price was irrational, he said, and might have been caused by a computer program instructed to dump shares if ABN Amro fell below a certain level; or sold on thin volumes by an individual investor who panicked.