ING plans large state payback this year

City A.M. Reporter
Dutch bancassurer ING intends to repay a substantial part of its state debt in 2011 from divestments and list its insurance units in 2012, moving it closer to the lifting of a ban on acquisitions and competition.

The Dutch government paid nearly €40bn (£33.6bn) to rescue the domestic financial sector in 2008 when it provided capital injections for ING, Aegon, and SNS Reaal, and nationalised ABN AMRO.

ING, which reported underlying fourth-quarter results mostly in line with expectations on Wednesday, received €10bn state aid and still needs to repay €7.5bn including costs.

"It is important that we can say we are no longer supported by the state," chief executive Jan Hommen told reporters.

Full repayment would lift European restrictions on acquisitions and make it easier to compete by giving them flexibility on pricing.

ING is in talks with the Thai government to increase its ownership of TMB, in which it holds a 30 per cent stake.

ING aimed to repay "a significant amount this year" and could make an announcement soon on the timing and amount, following talks with the Dutch government regarding the total size, including costs, that has to be repaid, Hommen said.

Chief Financial Officer Patrick Flynn told Reuters Insider the group in 2010 had generated a surplus capital of €5.9bn "which gives us significant flexibility in repaying the Dutch state".

"It is their top priority to pay back the government, then you can pay dividends, you can pay higher bonuses, and you are a normal company in a normal world, and are no longer being supported by the government," said Tom Muller, an analyst at Theodoor Gilissen.

Hommen also said that the two separate IPOs planned for its U.S., European, and Asian insurance operations would most likely go ahead next year, while Flynn added that a strategic sale of the insurance business could not be ruled out.