Morocco’s BMCE Bank wants to do more business in the US and has not ruled out the possibility of buying shares in Arab American Bank (AAB), a BMCE source says. The Moroccan bank approached some of the numerous shareholders in the New York-based bank at the end of last year but no deals have been done.

‘BMCE is considering how to dynamise investment and trade flows [between Morocco and the US]. If there is any way to do it without buying a stake in a bank, we will consider it,’ says a source at the Moroccan bank. No final decision has been made on whether to buy into AAB, which has 21 shareholders, including Morocco’s central bank. The issue is not a top priority at the moment, as BMCE is carrying out an internal review in tandem with consultants Booz Allen & Hamilton.

Earlier this year, BMCE planned to buy out some shareholders in AAB, but a spokesman for AAB says no deal was concluded. ‘BMCE approached us to take a controlling portion of our shares, but [they] didn’t buy any.’ Some shareholders were willing to sell, he adds, but not enough to give BMCE a controlling interest (MEED 14:3:97).

About 60 per cent of AAB’s shares are owned by four related Egyptian institutions: the central bank, state-owned National Bank of Egypt, Commercial International Bank (Egypt) and Arab African International Bank (AAIB), which is 50 per cent owned by Egypt. AAIB says it has no plans to sell its 6.9 per cent stake. ‘We believe in the potential of this bank, so we’re not considering selling,’ says chief executive Ahmed Elbardai.

AAB had assets of $597 million at the end of 1996, when it made a profit of $2.3 million, up from $1 million the year before. The bank saw its customer deposits fall by about one-half to $361 million after Syrian deposits were withdrawn over fears that the US government might be about to freeze Syrian assets. The spokesman says these deposits have started to return to the bank.