Veteran Nordea chairman to quit, eyes on successor

By Mia Shanley and Helena Soderpalm

STOCKHOLM (BestGrowthStock) – The chairman of Nordea (NDA.ST: ) is to quit next year after two decades with analysts pointing to Sampo boss and current deputy chairman Bjorn Wahlroos as a possible replacement.

Hans Dalborg has been chairman of Nordea since 2002. Before that, he was chief executive of the Swedish bank which merged with banks in Norway, Finland and Denmark to form Nordea, now the Nordic region’s biggest bank by value.

“I took over as CEO for a Swedish bank in a very critical situation in the middle of a bank crisis,” Dalborg said in a statement, announcing that at 70 next year he would not stand for re-election at the 2011 annual shareholder meeting.

“I will resign as chairman of a leading European bank with a strong financial position and a clear strategy.”

Wahlroos, who has spoken more openly than Dalborg of consolidation in the Nordic banking sector, quickly emerged as the most tipped replacement.

“He has a very good track record at Sampo and would be a good choice for that position. I would be surprised if it was someone else,” said Matti Ahokas, an analyst at Handelsbanken in Helsinki.

Finnish insurer Sampo (SAMAS.HE: ) is the biggest owner of Nordea stock, with a 20.6 percent stake. The Swedish government, which has said it wants to sell its shareholding, has 19.9 percent.

CONSOLIDATION?

Sampo denied in September that Wahlroos had met Swedish officials to discuss possible merger possibilities for Nordea.

However, Walhroos told Reuters earlier this year that he saw big consolidation opportunities, though he added that it was unlikely to happen over the next few years due to the lack of a “political tailwind” on the issue.

The outgoing Dalborg told Reuters that organic growth would continue to be the main focus.

“Organic growth will be the main track in the near future. Then, there is always the chance that further down the road merger opportunities could arise,” he said.

Nordea’s chief executive officer, Christian Clausen, said on Tuesday in an interview with Swedish business daily Dagens Industri that the bank was open to the possibility of mergers, including in Sweden.

“The best merger partners in Sweden begin with ‘S’,” he added, referring to Swedbank (SWEDa.ST: ) and SEB (SEBa.ST: ).

Shares in the three banks were slightly higher in mid-afternoon trade, in line with the overall market.

Under Dalborg’s chairmanship, Nordea expanded business in Poland and Russia, though along with some of its Nordic rivals it was stung by double-digit downturns in the Baltic economies of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — Europe’s worst performers.

Analysts expect Nordea, which reported a healthy 960 million euro operating profit in the third quarter, to continue to show the same strong performance in the quarters ahead.

“Recent results from Nordea basically prove that it benefits from very good volume development in terms of lending,” Kimmo Rama, an analyst at Evli.

“For example, the corporate lending side clearly outperforms its Swedish lending peers, so we expect Nordea to report strong results for Q4 and also for the next year.”

(Additional reporting by Oskar von Bahr; Editing by David Cowell)

Veteran Nordea chairman to quit, eyes on successor