Kazakh Billionaire Said to Weigh Bid as State Sells Banks

Kazakh billionaire Bulat Utemuratov is looking at acquiring Alliance Bank and Temirbank as the country’s government sells lenders it acquired in bailouts, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The people didn’t give details of the possible deal and asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Verny Investment Holding LLP, the Kazakh private-equity group part-owned by Utemuratov, declined to comment. The lenders’ state-run parent, sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, said in an e-mail yesterday that it can’t disclose information about potential investors because of a confidentiality agreement.

The central Asian nation, which holds about 3 percent of the world’s oil and is the largest uranium supplier, is seeking to shed assets after bailing out defaulted lenders in the 2007-2009 economic crisis and handing them to the wealth fund.

“Given the track record for foreign investors in Kazakh banks, competition may be limited to local buyers,” Jason Hurwitz, an analyst at Alfa Bank in Moscow, said by phone. “It will be hard to sell these banks without a discount to book value.”

Debt Restructuring

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has ordered the sale of state stakes in the two lenders and BTA Bank by the end of this year. Alliance and Temirbank combined may be valued at between $500 million and $1 billion, Alliance Chief Executive Officer Maksat Kabashev told reporters on April 3.

BTA, Alliance and Temirbank restructured about $20 billion in debt after defaulting in 2009. BTA overhauled its debt in December for the second time since 2010.

Samruk-Kazyna has been considering a merger of Temirbank and Alliance, the country’s eighth- and 13th-largest banks by assets, and is open to offers from any buyer, including a local investor, the fund’s deputy chief executive officer, Yelena Bakhmutova, said Feb. 7.

Utemuratov may “make sense” as a potential buyer because of his history as a banker, Hurwitz said.

The purchase would mark the biggest foray into the financial industry for Utemuratov since he sold ATF Bank to Italy’s UniCredit SpA for more than $2 billion in 2007, producing a 4.9-fold return on Verny’s investment, according to the company’s website.

UniCredit Deal

UniCredit is selling ATF to a Kazakh investor, KazNitrogenGaz, for a price equivalent to its equity capital after gaining central bank permission, according to a statement today from ATF. As of Jan. 1, its equity amounted to 71.2 billion tenge ($472 million).

Utemuratov, 55, controls Forte Bank and Kassa Nova Bank, Kazakhstan’s 27th- and 29th-largest lenders, with total assets at 80 billion tenge as of March 1, according to central bank data.

Verny, based in the Kazakh capital, Astana, manages $4 billion of assets, spanning industries from oil and gas to telecommunications in countries including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Austria.

In February, Verny Chairman Timur Issatayev said his company is waiting for details about plans to combine Alliance and Temirbank and wants to know how each lender’s competitive advantages are preserved before taking “any serious steps.”

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