Banque Audi denies end of merger talks with EFG-Hermes

04 July 2008
Banque Audi, Lebanon’s largest bank, insists it is still in merger talks with Egyptian investment bank EFG-Hermes, despite widespread speculation that political instability in Lebanon had caused the latter to pull out of the talks.

EFG-Hermes already has a 23 per cent shareholding in Audi and has two seats on the institution’s management board.

“Reports that talks are over are completely inaccurate and do not relate to any real information on the situation,” says Freddie Baz, strategy director at Banque Audi.

“There is potential for some important synergies but we need to assess how easy it will be to capitalise on them.

“We hope that soon we will end up with a common view on what the synergies are and how we could implement them in an acceptable timeframe and continue with a merger of two equals.”

He says even if the talks do not lead to a full merger, the banks will still look at how they can expand into new areas together.

Other markets Audi has identified for expansion include Algeria and Tunisia. “We have a licence application with the central bank in Algeria to build a bank from scratch there,” says Baz. “In Tunisia, we will look at buying a bank through the government’s privatisation plan.”

The different strategies for the two countries reflect the fact that it is harder to get a new banking licence in Tunisia, while it is more difficult to buy a bank in Algeria, according to Baz.

“We have a lot of financial flexibility and a large capital base, so the limit on what we will pay for a bank in Tunisia is the maximum we can pay and still create value for our shareholders,” he says.

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