As part of its global investment policy, Bank Leumi is considering establishing a financing firm in India, along with a local partner. The bank is also weighing new investment opportunities in the United States that may have opened up due to the sub-prime loan crisis.
The firm in India would offer credit to Indian consumers and finance Israeli business activity in India. Because of limitations on foreign investment in local Indian banks, Bank Leumi would operate in the Indian market through a financing firm with an Indian partner, rather than through a bank.
Leumi's strategy of achieving critical mass in a limited number of markets means the bank prefers to expand its presence in countries where it already operates. The bank is considering acquisition opportunities in the U.S. for this reason.
The bank has almost completely refrained from entering new countries because of this policy, except in cases where it believes it will be able to acquire a relatively large bank that can provide substantial activity. Thus, Leumi has considered acquiring the Greek bank Proton. Bank Hapoalim is currently negotiating the acquisition of a 35% share of the bank for $300 million.
Leumi decided against the acquisition because of price considerations. The multiple (price-to-earnings ratio) of 6 demanded by the Greek bank appeared too high, especially in light of prices prevailing in Eastern Europe - multiples of 4.5. The bank estimated that only sustained market growth of 8% to 9% annually could justify such a price, and questioned whether the Greek market could produce such growth rates.
Because it has refrained from entering new countries, the bank also has declined to move into Eastern Europe. One of the only countries in Eastern Europe that the bank has carefully considered is Ukraine, but so far it has balked, in light of the relatively large investment required.
In 2006 Leumi also acquired the Romanian bank Eurom for about $45 million. Leumi intends to make use of Eurom's banking infrastructure to expand into additional countries in Eastern Europe. It already has opened Eurom offices in Bulgaria.
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