South Africa Central Bank Planning African Bank Measures

South Africa’s Reserve Bank plans to detail measures for African Bank Investments Ltd., the Johannesburg-lender whose stock lost most of its value after saying it needs 8.5 billion rand ($797 million) of new funds.

The Reserve Bank will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. in Pretoria to “announce measures to be taken with regard to African Bank Ltd.,” according to a statement today on the Reserve Bank’s website, which didn’t give additional details.

African Bank’s situation is critical after the bank said Aug. 6 that Chief Executive Officer and founder Leon Kirkinis resigned, losses will be at a record this year and it would need to tap investors for a fresh capital injection less than a year after raising 5.48 billion rand in a December rights issue.

Part of African Bank’s troubles stem from its 9.2 billion rand acquisition of furniture retailer Ellerine Holdings Ltd. in 2008, which has prompted losses and writedowns after sales dropped. Abil, as African Bank is known, doesn’t take deposits and typically disburses small loans not backed by assets to low-income earners. Many customers are struggling to keep up with repayments amid rising unemployment and inflation.

“Abil’s losses are in large part due to its unique business model,” the Pretoria-based central bank said in an Aug. 6 statement on its website, adding that it’s the country’s only lender operating a furniture chain. “Credit losses and the drain on its resources have resulted, among others, from the inability of its furniture chain to operate profitably.”

8,000 Jobs

Ellerine, with more than 1,000 stores and almost 8,000 staff, said on Aug. 7 that it was insolvent and went into business rescue, similar to the U.S.’s Chapter 11, to seek a return to solvency and save jobs after Abil stopped funding it.

The stock dropped to 31 cents on Aug. 8, from 6.88 rand on Aug. 5, the day before a trading update revealed that the bank expects a record 7.6 billion-rand loss this year and that Kirkinis is stepping down after 23 years. Abil also said it’s seeking to split its assets into a good and bad bank.

“We think the SARB would be willing to provide liquidity to such a good bank,” Peter Attard Montalto, emerging-market analyst at Nomura International Plc. in London, wrote in a note to investors on Aug. 8. “There are serious questions to be raised though why the National Credit Regulator, the Financial Services Board and, yes, even SARB, did not sound enough alarm bells into 2012 as the bad loan book was being built up.”

Mistakes Made

The last time a bank failed in South Africa was 12 years ago, when Saambou Holdings Ltd. and Unifer Holdings Ltd. collapsed in 2002 and Abil bought Saambou’s loan book.

“A mistake was made when the board rejected the CEO’s resignation three months ago,” Kokkie Kooyman, head of Cape Town-based Sanlam Global Investments, with $900 million under management, said on Aug. 7. “The time they had to get a new rights issue in place with commitments from shareholders and put a new CEO in place wasn’t used. They spooked the market.”

Coronation Fund Managers Ltd., the Public Investment Corp. and Stanlib Ltd. are Abil’s three largest shareholders, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The share plunge shaved

2.17 billion rand off the value of Coronation’s 22 percent stake. Abil also owes debt holders more than 33.5 billion rand in bonds and interest.

Abil in December raised 5.48 billion rand in a rights issue which the bank said was 64 percent oversubscribed. The offer was underwritten by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

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