Investors in Spain's BBVA bank sit seats apart at lonely AGM

MADRID (Reuters) - A scattering of lonely shareholders sat seats apart in a huge conference centre in the Spanish port city of Bilbao on Friday as most investors opted to attend virtually the annual general meeting of BBVA BBVA.MC, Spain's second largest bank.

Spain’s prime minister on Friday declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As officials urged people to stay at home in Europe’s worst-affected country after Italy, only around 90 investors attended the BBVA meeting in the Palacio Euskalduna de Bilbao, a conference centre with an auditorium that can hold 2,600 people.

Average attendance at the AGM of Spain’s second largest bank by market capitalisation has been around 550 people over the last five years.

“BBVA followed at all times the recommendations and measures adopted by the health authorities,” the bank’s CEO Carlos Torres told shareholders.

The bank made provisions for virtual attendance and those who turned up in person were advised to leave two empty seats on either side.

Other Spanish lenders, such as Santander SAN.MC and Bankia BKIA.MC, have also been working to minimise the business impact of the coronavirus outbreak through measures such as encouraging people to attend meetings by video link rather than in person.

Torres said the bank’s economists have estimated that in an optimistic scenario of a V-shaped recovery, the coronavirus would cut 0.5 percentage points off the world economy, but said that forecast could quickly change.

In the Spanish Basque Country, where Bilbao is situated, two areas are in lockdown and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 417 on Friday while the number of deaths rose to 14.

In Madrid, BBVA had to shut down its offices on Tuesday because of a confirmed case of coronavirus.

It had already transferred up to 100 staff from its trading floor in Madrid to a location just outside the capital as part of its strategy to cope with the outbreak.

(This refile fixes dateline)

Reporting By Jesús Aguado and Inti Landauro; editing by Barbara Lewis