May 30, 2014 / 1:31 PM / 3 years ago

INTERVIEW-Spain's Cajamar banking group seeks new investors

MADRID, May 30 (Reuters) - A group of Spanish cooperative banks, led by Cajamar, is talking to foreign investors and private equity firms about raising up to 350 million euros ($477 million) in new capital, its chairman said on Friday.

Banco de Credito Social Cooperativo, which groups together 19 rural savings banks as well as Cajamar’s banking business, is among 16 Spanish lenders subject to health checks before the European Central Bank takes over their regulator at the end of the year.

Chairman Luis Rodriguez said the group would have no trouble passing the Europe-wide stress tests with its existing capital, but was still looking to strengthen its resources.

“We’re looking to raise around 300 million or 350 million euros from private investors (...) to take advantage of opportunities to grow,” Rodriguez told Reuters in an interview, adding this would give stakeholders a minority share of the business.

“Although there’s no set calendar we’d like to have to have it closed by the end of the year,” Rodriguez said, adding that the new investment may also allow banks in the union to branch out into different products.

As Spain edges out of a deep economic downturn, banks have been making the most of international investors’ rising interest in them to bolster their capital.

Liberbank, Popular and Sabadell have recently raised funds from Latin American investors.

U.S. private equity firm Apollo Global Management, which owns small EVO Banco, is among those most actively looking for assets in Spain, while J.C. Flowers and U.S. financial services group Guggenheim Partners have also circled banks.

Rodriguez did not say who the group was talking to. Cajamar has an alliance with Italian insurer Generali and Rodriguez did not rule them out as potential investors.

The cooperative union has grown in recent years as more small rural savings banks joined and Cajamar absorbed some ailing peers. Spain still has 63 rural savings banks - which are usually owned by clients and focus on farming communities - though many are too small to fall under ECB supervision.

Spain used to have dozens of other savings banks, which unlike cooperatives were controlled by public authorities. These were among the worst hit by the crisis and most have since disappeared, by merging into other banks.

Banco de Credito Social Cooperativo, which has about 42 billion euros in assets, had a capital ratio of 11.5 percent at the end of April, Rodriguez said, above the minimum requirements. ($1 = 0.7345 Euros) (Editing by Erica Billingham)

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