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Bank Audi confirms merger talks with EFG Hermes

Bank Audi on Tuesday confirmed reports that it is holding direct talks with Cairo-based EFG-Hermes "on possible combination of the two institutions." Bank Audi emphasized that the discussions are at a very preliminary stage and that no agreement has been reached yet.

"Such an agreement would be conditional upon obtaining necessary shareholder and regulatory approval, including the consent of the central bank," Bank Audi said in a statement.

The bank said that if a deal materialized, then this "may generate significant commercial and financial synergies."

Bank Audi, one of the two largest banks in Lebanon, recorded a net profit of $201 million in 2007, an increase of 22.5 percent compared to 2006. Total assets of the bank rose to $17.2 billion from $14.2 billion.

Audi acquired Saradar Bank a few years ago in what observers described as one of the largest bank acquisitions in Lebanon's history.

"Bank Audi already operates in 10 countries such as Syria, Jordan and Egypt, which makes the bank a very handsome target for potential investors," one broker told The Daily Star.

Following the news of a possible merger or acquisition, shares of Bank Audi rose 8.9 percent on Monday. The rise in the bank's shares drove the BLOM stock index 3.9 percent higher to 1,519.07 points.

In Cairo, shares of investment bank EFG-Hermes gained 1.2 percent on the news that it is holding talks with Bank Audi.

Shares in EFG-Hermes last traded at 58.02 Egyptian pounds ($10.57), outperforming the benchmark CASE 30 index, which dipped 0.17 percent to 10,897.07 points, according to Reuters news agency.

"We saw a lot of buying in EFG-Hermes on the news," said Teymour el-Derini of Beltone, adding that traders were watching closely to see how the talks would proceed. "There was no panic, neither that nor any hysteria."

Toufic Karam, from FFA Private Bank, told The Daily Star that there were rumors that both Audi and EFG-Hermes have been holding talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

"I think Audi issued the statement because the rumor was out and the bank could not deny it," Karam said.

He added that both sides know each other very well since EFG-Hermes already owns 20 percent of Bank Audi.

"There are two ways to do a merger; either EFG-Hermes is buying the whole bank through a share swap or they are paying cash," Karam said.

He added that Bank Audi may not be willing to sell the bank, especially since it is doing very well.

"I think if the merger or acquisition takes place then this step will have a positive impact on the Lebanese financial marketBear-Stearns-Troubles ," Karam said.

He said he believes Audi's shares could rise to $122 or $150 from the current $83, if the talks were fruitful.

Beirut 19-03-2008
Redaction
The Daily Star



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