Atlas Mara Mulls Options on Nigerian Bank After Approaches

Atlas Mara Ltd. is considering options for its stake in a Nigerian bank after receiving takeover interest for one of its last remaining assets, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The initial approaches for its 49.97% holding in Lagos-based Union Bank of Nigeria Plc came from local lenders looking to expand in Africa’s biggest economy, the people said, asking not to be identified as deliberations are private. The firm is working with Rothschild & Co. and no final decision has been made on a potential sale or any other alternatives, they said.

Representatives for Atlas Mara and Rothschild declined to comment.

The London-listed banking group, co-founded by former Barclays Plc Chief Executive Officer Bob Diamond, is scaling down after an expansion that saw Atlas Mara misjudge competition in Africa and overpay for acquisitions. UBN’s market value of $418 million is more than seven times that of Atlas Mara.

The firm’s stake in UBN, Nigeria’s eighth-biggest bank, is its biggest investment and seen as a foothold into the continent’s most populous nation. It is also among its top money spinners. Diamond, who was an African bull even during his days with the London-based Barclays, was replaced as Atlas Mara chairman in February 2019 by Michael Wilkerson, the chairman of Fairfax Africa, which owns 49% of the firm.

Atlas Mara’s shares, which slid 75% last year, rose as much as 9.3% to the highest level since Dec. 9. UBN gained 1.8% by the close of trading in Lagos to pair its losses over the past 12 months to 10%.

Asset Sales

At the time of the board shake up, Nigeria was still a flagship market for Atlas Mara, which said it wants to support UBN’s growth. It started off with an initial indirect holding of 9.1% in 2014.

Atlas Mara is in talks to sell businesses in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia to Nigerian lender Access Bank Plc, Bloomberg News reported in December. The firm is nearing regulatory approval for the asset disposals to Access Bank, the people said.

Nigeria’s Biggest Bank Is Said in Talks to Buy Atlas Mara Assets

Atlas Mara agreed to sell its Mozambican business to Access Bank in September, and two months later entered into a pact with Kenya’s KCB Group Plc to dispose of its Rwandan and Tanzanian units.

Atlas Mara Secures Funding, Bond Holders Agree to Standstill

Atlas Mara, which has lost more than 90% of its value since listing on the London Stock Exchange in 2013, has said its strategy is to exit markets or seek partners in countries where it doesn’t see opportunities to bulk up or make money.

Chukwuemeka Okonkwo took over as chief executive officer in April after serving as the lender’s head of corporate banking and treasury. Net income in the nine months through September was little changed at 15 billion naira ($38 million).

— With assistance by Antony Sguazzin, Roxanne Henderson, Loni Prinsloo, and Alexandre Rajbhandari

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