MADRID, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Spanish lender Caixabank said on Thursday it was selling stakes in Bank of East Asia and Mexico's Inbursa to its holding company Criteria in a 2.65 billion euro ($2.90 billion) deal to free up capital.
Criteria Caixa will pay for most of the transaction in Caixabank shares - equivalent to 9.9 percent of Caixabank's capital, or 2 billion euros - and will at the same time reduce its holding in Caixabank to 52 percent from 56.8 percent. Another 642 million euros will be paid in cash.
Caixabank is selling its entire 9.01 percent stake in Inbursa to Criteria, as well as its 17.24 percent holding in Bank of East Asia.
Holding large stakes in other banks has become more onerous under stricter international banking regulation that encourages lenders to beef up their capital levels to try and protect them from crises.
Caixabank said in a statement that reducing the amount of capital consumed by its business stakes was one of its strategic goals.
The Spanish lender - the country's third-biggest by market value - still has a 44 percent stake in Portugal's Banco BPI .
Criteria also holds stakes in other businesses, including Spain's Abertis and Gas Natural.
Criteria's stake in Caixabank, meanwhile, would fall to 48.9 percent when taking into account a bond it issued which matures in 2017 and which is exchangeable into Caixabank shares.
Caixabank - which added the stake sales would push its core capital ratio under the strictest "fully-loaded" criteria to 11.7 percent from 11.6 percent at the end of September - said the deals would close in the first quarter of 2016. ($1 = 0.9137 euros) (Reporting by Sarah White and Jesus Aguado; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)