Diamond Said to Mull Atlas Options Including Taking Private

Updated on
  • Atlas Mara stock had dropped 80%; no final decision made
  • Merger, private-equity investment are being considered

Bob Diamond, co-founder of Atlas Mara Ltd., is weighing options including taking the sub-Saharan African bank acquirer private, people with knowledge of the plan said.

One option being considered is to find an investor or private-equity vehicle to back such a move, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the details are private. A merger with another financial institution with a presence in Africa is also being weighed, the people said, adding that discussions are at a very early stage and no final decision has been made. A spokesman for Atlas Mara declined to comment.

Bob Diamond

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Diamond, a former chief executive officer of Barclays Plc, is looking for ways to revive confidence in Atlas Mara, which has lost about 80 percent of its value since selling shares to the public more than three years ago to buy up stakes in African banks. The company has a current market value of about $143 million. Its biggest asset, a stake of more than 31 percent in Union Bank of Nigeria, has exposed Atlas Mara to growing bad debts and a currency devaluation, which may complicate a transaction.

Atlas Mara began cost-cutting in 2016 as expenses engulfed income and threatened the firm’s ability to grow through acquisitions. With operations in seven African countries, the firm needs five to seven years to build its business on the continent, Diamond said in an interview in September.

Any transaction involving Atlas Mara may come amid a flurry of deal interest in African banking assets. Abraaj Group, a private-equity firm that invests across emerging markets, said on Tuesday that it’s interested in buying a stake in Barclays’s South African business, which Diamond built up when he ran the British bank. Diamond himself has expressed interest in the Barclays assets, as has South African pension-fund administrator Public Investment Corp.

Atlas Mara fell 6.3 percent to $2.06 at 2 p.m. in London trading and earlier slid as much as 9.1 percent, the biggest intraday drop since October. Trading volume surged to more than triple the three-month average.

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