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By Stelios Orphanides
Bank of Cyprus, the island’s biggest credit institution, said that it fully repaid its outstanding emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) to the Central Bank of Cyprus, two weeks before commencing the trading of its share at the London Stock Exchange, a development that may also increase shareholder expectations.
The emergency funding, inherited from Cyprus Popular Bank, widely known as Laiki, when it went out of business in March 2013, peaked the following month to €11.4bn, pursuant to the provisions of Cyprus’s bailout terms in particular to the “sale of certain operations of Cyprus Popular Bank Plc Co Ltd decree of 2013,” the lender said in an emailed statement on Thursday. Alone in 2016 and early 2017, “the Bank repaid €3.8bn of ELA”.
“The full repayment of ELA funding has been a strategic objective of the bank over the past three years and signifies the normalisation of the bank’s funding structure,” chief executive officer John Hourican was quoted as saying in the statement. “This should further strengthen stakeholders’ confidence that the Bank is becoming a stronger, safer and a more focused institution capable of delivering appropriate shareholder returns over the medium term”.
On December 13, Hourican said that the remaining amount of emergency funding had dropped the day before to €0.4bn, compared to a November €600m figure provided by the Central Bank of Cyprus.
The elimination of ELA, reflecting an improved liquidity situation also in the system, “is another significant milestone in the bank’s journey back to strength since 2013, and was achieved through a number of actions including the extensive deleveraging of non-core assets and operations, the equity raise in 2014, the significant increase in customer deposits over the past two years, the repayment and maturity of government bonds and the conversion of assets into European Central Bank eligible collateral,” Bank of Cyprus said.
News of the bank’s achievement, which hours later announced that its share will commence trading at the London exchange on January 19, was greeted with increased purchases at the Cyprus Stock Exchange where it price rose intraday 6.1 per cent to €0.157. The repayment of ELA also prompted finance minister Harris Georgiades to congratulate Hourican and the bank.
“It’s an important development which confirms the consolidation of the bank and the restoration of confidence in our country’s banking system,” he said.
Irena Georgiadou, chairwoman of Hellenic Bank, welcomed the news. “Great news for @BoC_PressOffice, #Cyprus and the banking sector,” she commented in her Twitter account.
The Financial Times said that following the repayment of ELA, the lender would now be free to pay dividend to its shareholders, citing a quote Hourican made in late 2013.