The decision by one of the Qatar's many investment vehicles to inject €500 million (Dh2.6 billion) into newly formed lender EFG Euro-bank, via a mandatory convertible bond, came as a surprise. But the investment looks characteristically opportune, and Qatar's support for troubled banks in the Eurozone may not end there.
Paramount is relatively unknown — simply described as representing the interests of Qatar's ruling family. It looks like just another one of the many entities used by the country to channel its investments. Qatar's stake in British bank Barclays, for example, was split between a special purpose vehicle called Challenger, owned by Shaikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al Thani, and Qatar Holding, a subsidiary of the country's main sovereign fund which has a broad mandate to diversify the economy.
Lowering the stake
The deal will help Paramount lower the cost of its existing 4 per cent stake in Alpha Bank bought in 2008 for around €18 per share or €296 million — the lender's shares now trade at around €2.50. Qatar expects to get an annual 10 per cent coupon from the new lender until its three-year instrument converts at €1.70 per share — a 20 per cent discount to the pro-forma market price at the time of the deal.
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Distressed Western banks once again look like attractive territory for wealthy sovereign investors that can afford to make investments with a long-term view. The European bank sector trades on price-to-tangible net asset value of around 0.8 times for 2011 and, according to Citi, suggest a slowdown in future earnings beyond that of the bank's own forecasts or a normal recession.
Of course, Qatar's small circle of decision makers may also have other objectives in mind. In the last year, the country signed non-binding agreements to invest over $12 billion (Dh44 billion) in the Greek economy, across a range of sectors including energy, banks, real estate and tourism. Whether Qatar also invested in heavily discounted Greek sovereign debt remains unknown.
A paramount mystery
Qatar's little-known Paramount Services Holding has agreed to purchase €500 million (Dh2.6 billion) of mandatory convertible notes issued following an agreed merger of Greek lenders Alpha Bank and EFG Eurobank.
The convertible is expected to have a three year maturity, pay an annual coupon of 10 per cent, and convert at a price of €1.70 per share — equivalent to a 20 per cent discount to the pro-forma share price as of last Friday.
Paramount, which already owns 4 per cent of Alpha and is described as representing the interests of Qatar's "most prominent" family, will effectively own around 17 per cent of the lender after the deal.