Bob Diamond, the former chief executive of Barclays, has made a dramatic return to the London Stock Exchange, raising a higher than expected $325m through a cash shell targeting the booming African financial sector.
Atlas Mara, as the vehicle is known, on Tuesday filed its prospectus for an initial public offering, saying it hoped to begin trading in London on December 20. The capital raising is well above an initial target of $250m.
Mr Diamond has partnered with Ashish Thakkar, the 32-year-old head of Mara Group, a $1bn conglomerate with business in 19 African countries. Arnold Ekpe, the former chief executive of pan-African lender Ecobank, will chair the group. Mr Diamond and Mr Thakkar have invested personally $20m in the venture.
The successful capital raising is likely to reinforce a rising sense of business opportunities in Africa, a continent that for long was ignored by investors. Atlas Mara is the first listed cash shell targeting the banking industry in Africa.
Miguel Azevedo, head of investment banking in Africa at Citigroup, said the deal showed there were “lots of interest” for investment in Africa. “[The deal] is going to raise awareness on the continent and availability of capital for Africa”.
Sub-Saharan Africa is attracting bankers because most of the region’s population of 1bn does not use banking services – only a quarter of people hold a bank account. Fewer than 5 per cent of Africans have a credit card.
Although the capital raising has attracted widespread interest among institutional investors, including sovereign wealth funds, a minority questioned the credentials of both Mr Diamond and Mr Thakkar in the financial industry in Africa.
Atlas Mara will “focus on acquiring a company or business in the financial services sector with all or a substantial portion of its operations in Africa”, it said in the prospectus. The cash shell is likely to focus on a lender that banks the business sector, where the lack of capital availability is greater, rather than consumers.
The company said in its prospectus that there were “significant gaps in the market today including the need for capital created by European financial institutions retreating to their home territories due to the sovereign debt crisis and the Basel III regulatory framework at a critical time for growth in Africa”.
Mr Diamond left Barclays under a cloud last year after the bank was fined for manipulating the Libor interbank lending rate. The divisive American banker had transformed the British bank, which has significant operations in Africa, spending billions of dollars building an investment banking operation which he oversaw for years.
Since his departure he has kept a relatively low profile. Earlier this year, Mr Diamond set up Atlas Merchant Capital in New York. He views the vehicle as akin to an old-style merchant bank that will engage in a series of deals in collaboration with partners. Atlas Mara is his first merchant bank deal.
The cash shell resembles similar acquisition vehicles launched in 2010 and 2011 by financier Nathaniel Rothschild to buy mining and oil assets on the cheap during the downturn in commodities. Vallar and Vallares, as they were known, attracted $1bn and $2.2bn in their IPOs in London. But since then Vallar has been hit by controversy after it invested in Bumi, the Indonesia-based coal miner.
The launch on Tuesday of Atlas Mara coincided with shareholders in Bumi voting for a divorce with its Indonesia partners after months of tension. Vallares, on the other hand, has performed better with its bet in Iraq’s Kurdistan oil sector.
Citi was the sole adviser of Atlas Mara.
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