Bob Diamond’s Nigeria Plan Takes Shape

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Bob Diamond’s ambitions of building a top tier Nigerian bank are taking shape after the sale of a stake in Atlas Mara Ltd. gave him enough cash to make acquisitions in Africa’s most populous nation.

Atlas Mara completed the sale of 42 percent to Fairfax Africa through issuing new shares and a convertible bond, the lender said in a statement on Friday. The proceeds, which the company estimated in June will amount to $200 million, will be used to boost Atlas Mara’s holdings in Union Bank of Nigeria Plc and expand its markets, treasury and financial technology businesses, it said.

“This transaction puts Atlas Mara in a very strong position to deliver on our strategic goals,” Diamond, Atlas Mara’s chairman, said in a separate statement. A spokesman for the company couldn’t immediately respond to emailed questions.

Atlas Mara plans to increase its interest in UBN, its largest investment, to about 45 percent from 31 percent, of which only 22 percent is held directly. Once done, it will approach development finance institutions to bolster the Lagos-based lender’s capital levels, Atlas Mara said in a prospectus last month. From 2019, it will seek to scale up UBN’s operations by expanding existing businesses and making acquisitions, the document showed.

Atlas Mara, which bought stakes in banks across seven African countries after an initial public offering at the end of 2013, has struggled to grow profit as currencies across the continent weakened amid a commodities rout and economic growth slowed.

To boost earnings, Atlas Mara has also turned to currency trading. The lender expects to get approval from the Dubai Financial Services Authority in the fourth quarter to develop its markets and treasury operations in the United Arab Emirates, the company said in the prospectus. The business caters to clients who “either have or want exposure to African rates and currencies,” Atlas Mara said.

The stock rose 2 percent to $2.50 by noon in London, extending gains this year to 33 percent and giving the company a market value of $418 million. The securities are heading for their first annual advance in four years.

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