Tuesday 09 August 2022

Fortwas

It must have a seemed a great idea last spring. The fairly nondescript Belgo-Dutch Fortis acquires Holland’s leading bank ABN Amro. A snip at €24bn. And one in the eye for the Dutch, who still treat the Belgians as the butt of many of their jokes.


But guess what, it’s the Dutch who have the last laugh. The Dutch central bank president Nout Wellink must be dying to say “I told you so”, after he opposed the ABN Amro break-up.
And even former ABN Amro CEO Rijkman Groenink must be wearing a very smug grin as he rolls about in his multi-million euro pay-off. Meanwhile, rival banking and insurance group ING is hovering in the background, no doubt delighted at the prospect of snapping up ABN Amro’s Dutch operations at a knock-down price.
But who’s really to blame for the huge losses suffered by those poor Fortis shareholders, who have pumped an extra €14bn into the ailing financial group over the past 12 months and are now left holding shares worth a mere €12bn – and falling?
Former chairman Maurice Lippens, the architect of the disaster? One of the three seemingly interchangeable CEOs who’ve tried and failed to convince the public that Fortis was solid for the past few months?
But hold on, who approved the ABN Amro deal at a time when it was already clear that we were on the brink of a worldwide financial crisis? Why, those very shareholders who are now crying wolf – and lots of crocodile tears. The same shareholders whose panicking has knocked Fortis shares for six and wiped out two-thirds of the group’s market value.
The truth is that Fortis was choking on ABN Amro and now Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg taxpayers are paying for an €11.2bn Heimlich manoevre. As usual, the little guy gets it in the neck.

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