German bank, Aareal, obtains state aid

Wiesbaden, Germany (dpa) - A further German banking group, the mortgage lender Aareal, said Sunday the German state had granted it a non-voting capital injection and federal loan guarantees, dpa reported.

However, Aareal Bank AG insisted the move was purely precautionary and said it had ended 2008 in the black.

Other banks to receive German government backing in the ongoing crisis have included Commerzbank, which was one-quarter nationalized, and Hypo Real Estate, which obtained enormous guarantees.

Aareal said it had obtained a capital injection of 525 million euros (682 million dollars), but the government would be a sleeping partner only. It also reported up to 4 billion euros in cover for its bond issues via federal loan guarantees.

In a statement from its head office in the city of Wiesbaden, it said the aid had been promised by Soffin, the German government's Frankfurt-based bank bail-out agency.

"We are not applying to Soffin in desperation. Our bank is completely healthy and there is nothing to indicate that that may change in the foreseeable future," said Aareal chief executive Wolf Schumacher in a statement.

"We intend to play icebreaker in Germany," he said, referring to mutual reluctance among other banks to claim government assistance. "We have simply bought ourselves two insurance policies."

Schumacher said Aareal believed it was strong enough to cope unaided with "serious challenges such as the international financial markets crisis," but said Aareal wanted the help because of stricter capital rules for banks.

It would also avoid being at a competitive disadvantage against rivals who were benefitting from state aid, he said.

He said the capital injection was similar to buying bonds, and did not mean the German state had become a shareholder.

"It's a difference of night and day," he said, adding that in the case of Commerzbank, the government held actual equity.

"Aareal remains a 100-per-cent private bank," he said. The injection had increased the underlying capital ratio at Aareal from 8 to 10 per cent. Aareal was to pay Soffin as sleeping partner a return of 9 per cent annually.

Figures issued Sunday showed a pre-tax surplus in 2008 of 117 million euros, down from 380 million euros in 2007. Aareal did not forecast its earnings this year.

Germany last year set aside 80 billion euros to inject into banks and authorized up to 400 billion euros in guarantees. So far a total of 196 billion euros, mainly guarantees, has been approved, but Soffin is dealing with dozens more applications.

Commerzbank is the only bank to obtain a true equity injection, with Germany obtaining just over 25 per cent of its shares.

Hypo Real Estate, also a mortgage lender, has obtained guarantees extending to 52 billion euros.

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