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Tue, May 27, 2008 - Page 10 News List

St George, Westpac ink share-swap buyout pact

COMPETITIONAnalysts expect other major banks may look to foil the bid to create Australia’s biggest bank by topping Westpac’s proposal for St George

AP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

St George Bank Ltd and Westpac Banking Corp signed an implementation agreement yesterday to pave the way for Westpac’s buyout of the smaller group.

The agreement, which would create Australia’s biggest bank, still needs to gain shareholder and regulatory approval. In the all-share deal, St George shareholders would get 1.31 Westpac shares for each St George share they hold.

The value of the deal varies with Westpac shares. At the close of Friday’s trading on the Australian Securities Exchange, it was worth about A$16.5 billion (US$16 billion).

Westpac boss Gail Kelly, who formerly headed St George, said the buyout would create “a springboard for growth with strong brands, leading products and an extensive distribution network.”

“Each bank’s customers will also benefit from greater diversity and choice of products from both organizations,” Kelly said.

Westpac has pledged to retain the St George banks and Assuaged brands with no net reduction in ATMs or the retail network, the two lenders said in a statement.

A combined Westpac and St George would have a AA credit rating, putting the merged entity in a strong position in the current financial environment, the statement said.

The deal comes less than four months after Kelly took the helm at Westpac and ends years of speculation about a tie up between the two Sydney-based banks.

Analysts expect that Australia’s other major banks, including National Australia Bank Ltd and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, may look to foil the bid, either by lobbing a rival offer or taking a blocking stake in St George. The chief executives of both banks have declined to rule out a rival offer.

The agreement signed yesterday extends the exclusivity period for the planned takeover but does not prevent St George from considering any superior proposals that may emerge. Some analysts have previously said they doubt other Australian banks could construct a deal as attractive as the one offered by Westpac.

The deal has the backing of the St George board in the absence of any superior offer.

A combination of St George and Westpac would have more than 10 million customers and control a quarter of Australia’s home loan market.

Midafternoon in Sydney, St George shares were up 1.3 percent at A$32.73. Westpac shares were up 2.4 percent at A$23.06.

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