ING may leave state rescue two years early

Wed Nov 6, 2013 6:42am EST
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By Sara Webb

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - ING ING.AS said it should complete its restructuring two years ahead of schedule, meaning the Dutch banking and insurance group could be one of the first euro zone casualties of the 2008 global crisis to emerge from a state rescue.

Cutting free of the state is seen as an important step for ING, removing a European ban on acquisitions and giving it greater pricing flexibility so it can compete more easily.

Major U.S. banks repaid much of their emergency government aid in months, allowing them to stay competitive, but in Europe it is taking years to unwind a series of bailouts stretching from Belgium to Greece.

Like its Dutch rivals ABN Amro and Rabobank, ING had a strong international presence at the time of the financial crisis, with a network far larger than its tiny home market.

Both ING, which required a 10 billion euro ($13.5 billion) bailout by the state, and ABN Amro, which was nationalized, were forced to retreat from their global empires to focus on Europe, where business is hampered by anemic economic growth.

But ING reported better-than-expected third-quarter net profit of 101 million euros on Wednesday, repaid another tranche of state aid, and said it has also made progress on divesting assets as outlined in the restructuring plan.

"Under a new agreement with the European Commission, the total restructuring of ING Group will now be completed two years earlier, by the end of 2016," Chief Executive Ralph Hamers, who took over from Jan Hommen in October, said in a statement.

Hamers said the divestment of ING's Asian insurance and investment management activities was almost complete, while the group was on track with plans for an initial public offering of its European insurance unit.   Continued...

A pedestrian walks past the logo of ING bank by the entrance of the group's main office in Brussels November 6, 2013. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir