VIENNA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Bank Austria Creditanstalt, a unit of Germany's HVB Group, said on Thursday it had signed a contract to buy a majority stake in Croatia's Splitska Banka in a deal valuing the bank at 150.8 million euros.
HVB, which like all major German banks reported a sharp drop in profits last year, is seeking to expand in central and eastern European countries which offer the prospect of more rapid growth than mature western markets.
Bank Austria Creditanstalt (BA/CA), which handles the HVB Group's central and eastern European activities, will buy a 25 percent stake from the Croatia privatisation agency DAB for 37.7 million euros and a 62.6 percent stake from Italian bank Unicredito (CRDI.MI for 94.4 million euros.
BA/CA said the deal was subject to Unicredito buying a majority stake in Zagrebacka Banka, another Croatian bank.
Splitska Banka, Croatia's third largest bank with a market share of seven percent, employs around 1,000 people in some 70 branches and will be merged with BA/CA's existing Croatian operations, HVB Croatia.
"We will signifcantly improve our market position through this acquisition in Croatia," BA/CA said in a statement. "It is also another significant step on our path towards expansion in south-east Europe."
UniCredito said it and the Croatian privatisation agency would sell 2,274,880 and 908,698 Splitska shares respectively at 41.5 euros per share under the deal.
UniCredito will record a one-time gain of 34.1 million euros from the transaction.
Shares in HVB, formerly known as HypoVereinsbank, were barely changed at 34.25 euros on a broadly steady Frankfurt stock exchange while Unicredito was down 0.16 percent at 4.43 euros in a slightly lower Milan market.
Splitska Bank posted a preliminary pre-tax profit of 20.8 million euros in 2001.
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