Santander considers cutting off more of its overseas fingers and toes

November 21, 2012
Obsession
Euro Crunch
November 21, 2012

Spain’s Banco Santander is in the early stages of selling off yet another of its overseas subsidiaries, after the successful IPO of 25% its Mexican banking unit in the US and Mexico City for $4 billion in September.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the bank is now plotting to put its US-based car financing unit, Santander Consumer USA, on the block in the first half of next year. The bank thinks it could raise as much as $6 billion in the sale, though it’s still unclear how much of a stake the Spanish parent would retain in the company. According to the report, the IPO would only take place if market conditions remained ripe.

Banco Santander has come under fire through its exposure to and residence in Spain, as the country slips deeper into recession. Though it’s highly diversified—particularly in Latin America—and its credit is actually ranked slightly better than the Spanish government’s by rating agencies, exposure to more and more non-performing loans in its core European markets and increasingly stringent capital requirements have meant the company is in need of cash.

Santander Consumer USA could start generating a tidy sum if the US auto market continues to recover. But as with the sale of its Mexican unit, the group risks sacrificing future profits in markets that are growing fast in order to feed its core European markets, where growth is slow. As we’ve previously argued, this is a short-term solution, as those core markets are unlikely to recover anytime soon. If the bank goes through with the IPO, that may help it ride out the storm, but at a cost to its long-term prospects.

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