2 PIIGS Banks With International Exposure

With the Eurozone economy moving slowly, some recovery- and value-oriented investors are looking at banks in Europe's worst economically hit nations.

While some banks are purely domestic operations, others have large international presences that generate revenue while the hard-hit home country of the bank is recovering. Here we will look at two banks that offer this attractive combination.

Buy Spain, get Latin America
Despite recently emerging from recession, Spain's economic environment is far from optimal. Unemployment declined, but only to 26%, while youth unemployment remains well above 50%. The nation also faces the threat of a long-term unemployment issue, with estimates from the International Monetary Fund predicting unemployment levels above 25% until 2018.

For those interested in Spanish banks, an ideal bank has additional streams of revenue. Fortunately for Banco Santander (NYSE: SAN  ) , it has major operations outside of Spain.

Banco Santander has been building a presence in Latin and South America since the early post-war era, and today generates around 40% of its revenues through its various subsidiaries in the area. Combined with a presence in the U.K., Banco Santander is diversified well beyond Spain.

Additionally, the bank's international exposure provides a lot of upside potential in emerging markets. Even if the Spanish economy continues to grow slowly, Banco Santander has the possibility of growing through its international operations.

Buy Greece, get Turkey
At the epicenter of the Eurozone economic crisis are the troubles in Greece. Between sovereign debt troubles, political uncertainty, and unemployment on the same order as Spain's, Greece leaves investors with plenty to fear.

But sometimes, widespread fear means it's time to buy. U.S.-based investors interested in Greek banks only really have one good option without trading pink sheets or opening an account that can trade on the Athens Stock Exchange. National Bank of Greece (NYSE: NBG  ) has an ADR listed in the U.S. that provides liquidity far beyond that of the pink sheets shares of Alpha Bank or Piraeus Bank. National Bank of Greece even has NBG preferred stock (NYSE: NBG-A  ) listed in the U.S. for investors looking to play the bank through distressed preferred stock.

Despite its name, National Bank of Greece is not a purely Greek bank. The bank has operations in many southern European countries that are being sold off to raise capital. But the bank's international crown jewel is its majority stake in Turkish bank Finansbank. Finansbank has been able to generate profits for National Bank of Greece to stem some of the bleeding from troubled Greek operations.

Finansbank even adds some emerging markets exposure to National Bank of Greece. While some are beginning to call Greece itself an emerging market, Turkey offers a way for National Bank of Greece to see emerging markets growth while generating profits outside of Greece.

Diversification from troubled economies
The economies of Spain and Greece both face high unemployment and slow or no growth. In the long-term, the prospects for banks in these nations could be bright as the economies return to full growth. In the meantime, these banks need revenue, and investors want to see some diversification in the event economic conditions in their home countries worsen.

Banco Santander and National Bank of Greece both offer significant exposure beyond their own nations' borders, reducing some of the risk that would exist in a pure play scenario. Investing in these banks is still risky and could involve substantial price swings, but investors interested in a recovery play on Spain or Greece should see if these banks deserve a spot in their portfolio.

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  • Report this Comment On October 29, 2013, at 2:37 PM, jonconnery wrote:

    I have positions in both NBG and SAN based on the rationale cited in this piece ... Scares me when My thinking is shared ? LOL

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