Dutch SNS Reaal shares plummet amid bailout rumours

Shares in troubled Dutch banking and insurance group SNS Reaal plummeted further on Thursday amid heightened speculation that the government will nationalise the bank which has a heavily indebted property subsidiary.

Shares in the bank fell 9.9 percent to close at 0.69 euros ($0.92), after having plunged 11.7 percent on Wednesday.

SNS shares were worth about 15 euros in 2008, before the financial crisis.

The sharp drop is the result of market jitters resulting from speculation that authorities may intervene to bail out the bank, the fourth-biggest in the Netherlands, which according to Dutch financial daily Financieele Dagblad (FD) may have to post up to 1.8 billion-euros in writedowns on festering property finance loans.

Some Dutch MPs have called for state intervention and a writedown of ordinary bonds, the first time ordinary bond holders would be drawn into a bank rescue, the paper said.

Earlier this month, the European Commission blocked a plan by three other Dutch banking giants, ABN Amro, ING and Rabobank to help SNS with a capital investment, on competition grounds saying that ABN and ING themselves previously received state aid, Dutch media reported.

SNS Reaal is considered a systemically important bank, meaning it is too important to allow it to go bankrupt.

A writedown of bonds however would affect the ratings of Western banks, the FD daily quoted ratings agency Fitch as saying on Thursday.

"If an important country in Europe writes down the ordinary bonds of a problematic bank, that means a complete change in how we look at banks," Bridget Gandy, head of European bank credit ratings at Fitch said.

An ordinary or corporate bond is distinct from a sovereign bond, as it is issued by a company rather than a state.

The financial crisis has seen sovereign debt writedowns in countries such as Greece, but not writedowns of ordinary bonds issued by banks which have as a result been regarded as relatively safe.

In effect it meant that ordinary bond holders for the first time will be drawn into a state-initiated bank rescue, causing bonds issued by banks to be seen as higher risk and in turn spook investors.

Bonds are seen as safer investments than shares, Dutch public broadcaster NOS said, adding that even during the banking crisis rescue the European Central Bank insisted on ordinary bond holders' protection "out of fear that investors would panic."

"Until now ordinary bond holders have been kept out of the vortex of bank rescues," it added.

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