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Atlas Mara mulls options on Union Bank after approaches

Atlas Mara Ltd. is considering options for its stake in Union Bank of Nigeria Plc after receiving takeover interest for one of its last remaining assets, Bloomberg reported yesterday, citing people with knowledge of the matter. According to the report, the initial approaches for its 49.97% holding in Union Bank 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%. 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. 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 unit

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