Fortis NV (FOR.BR: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) said it has a viable future as an insurance group on Tuesday after plunging to a 28 billion euro ($37 billion) net loss in 2008 on the state takeover of its troubled banking activities.
The stricken Belgian-Dutch group, pulled apart in a state-led bailout last year, said it would carry out a review of its options to boost growth, including acquisitions and a possible return of capital to shareholders, assuming they vote to finalize the break-up.
This is the new start for Fortis, shareholders permitting, Chief Executive Karel De Boeck told a conference call. A number of our companies are fast-growers and they need additional capital in order to sustain their development.
The precise make-up of the company is still in doubt. French bank BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) is poised to buy 75 percent of Fortis Bank, once the Belgian banking arm of listed Fortis Holding but now in state hands, as well as 25 percent of Fortis Insurance Belgium.
Fortis shareholders, who blocked BNP's purchase last month, will vote on revised conditions at meetings on April 8 and 9.
The Brussels Court of Appeal dealt a fresh blow to the group on Tuesday when it decided only shareholders who held stock at the time of the break-up in October would be allowed to vote on the sale of Fortis banking assets to BNP.
De Boeck said he was unsure if the group had time to apply the ruling before next week's meeting.
The court decision could swing the vote in favor of the no camp. Lawyer Mischael Modrikamen, who represents some 2,300 Fortis investors, told reporters he feared investors who bought cheaply after the initial break-up were only interested in making a quick profit.
De Boeck said an alternative plan for Fortis to reclaim its banking activities, outlined by Modrikamen, was not credible as Fortis had no means to buy them back.
Fortis's huge 2008 loss largely resulted from a 27.4 billion euros hit from discontinued activities, mainly writedowns on the sale of its banking operations.
The net result from continuing operations was a 610 million euro loss, against an 84 million euro profit in 2007.
Fortis said its rump insurance operation achieved a total net profit of 6 million euros, including a 639 million negative impact from its investment portfolios. The general division made a loss of 629 million euros due to net interest charges and took a 295 million hit from currency transactions.
The group had already said this month it would be unable to pay a dividend.
Ivan Lathouders, analyst at Bank Degroof, said most of the huge negatives were already known given Fortis Bank and Fortis Bank Nederland had already released results.
If you look at the insurance business it seems relatively OK. Losses on investment portfolios are not as bad as expected, he said, adding he had increased his target price to 1.70 euros from 1.50 euros.
Fortis shares, which reached almost 30 euros in April 2007 before its ill-fated joint bit for ABN AMRO, were 2.2 percent higher at 1.37 euros at 8 a.m. EDT, against a 2.9 percent gain in the DJ Stoxx European banking index .
Fortis, together with Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Spain's Santander (SAN.MC: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), bought ABN AMRO in 2007 for more than 70 billion euros and struggled to finance its part of the top-of-the-market price after the financial crisis struck.
Fortis was carved up by the Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg governments in October after an 11.2 billion euro cash injection failed to calm investors.
(Additional reporting by Antonia van de Velde; Editing by Dale Hudson and Elaine Hardcastle)