(Bloomberg) -- ABN Amro Bank NV moved a step closer to full private ownership as the Dutch government cut its stake to just below 50%, a step that could revive interest among potential suitors.

The sale announced late Monday ends a five-year hiatus in the government’s gradual exit from the lender that it bailed out during the financial crisis. Before the transaction, the state held a stake of 56.3%, split into 49.9% shares and 6.4% depositary receipts. NLFI, the body that holds the stake, sold depositary receipts through a trading plan that was announced in February.

As one of the few banks still under government control a decade-and-a-half after the crisis, ABN Amro has attracted interest from rivals such as BNP Paribas SA, though takeover talks haven’t progressed meaningfully, Bloomberg reported previously. The latest disposal is unlikely to change that in the near future after Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government abruptly collapsed last month, pausing decisions ahead of an election scheduled for November.

“There will always be speculations, about ABN and other banks,” ABN Amro’s Chief Financial Officer Ferdinand Vaandrager said last month in an interview Bloomberg about a possible consolidation of banks involving the Dutch lender. “But it’s absolutely not a top-of-mind topic for us.”

ABN Amro’s shares dropped 0.5% at 10:22 a.m. in Amsterdam, paring gains this year to 0.9%. The stock is trailing the 13% gain in the Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index this year.

Major consolidation in European banking stalled after the financial crisis despite the widely held view that greater scale would make struggling lenders more competitive. With rising interest rates lifting profit from lending, prospects for dealmaking in the industry have recently improved.

The latest disposal came about a year after Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag asked NLFI to consider conditions under which the holding can be reduced. The last sale took place in September 2017, when the government sold a 7% stake for about €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion). 

The Dutch state stepped in to bail out ABN Amro in the throes of the financial crisis with a €22 billion rescue, transforming it from one of the world’s biggest banks to a consumer-focused lender for the domestic market. ABN Amro returned as a publicly traded company in November 2015, after the government sold a 23% stake in an initial offering.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.