SA bank woos Ansbacher

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The Independent Online
HENRY ANSBACHER, the troubled merchant bank, is holding talks that may lead to a takeover by First National Bank of Southern Africa.

Yesterday, Ansbacher made a formal stock exchange announcement that talks with Singer & Friedlander, another merchant bank, collapsed but that discussions with an unidentified third party were at an advanced stage and might lead to an offer.

Singer confirmed that the courtship, initiated in April by Richard Fenhalls, Ansbacher chairman, had foundered because the two parties could not agree on price. Anthony Solomons, Singer's chairman, said recently: 'We gave them price parameters . . . we think it's worth doing at a certain price and no more.'

Ansbacher said earlier this year that the price Singer was prepared to offer was not far off Ansbacher's then market value, between pounds 50m and pounds 60m, or less than 30p a share. The bank management believed this undervalued the bank and was unfair to minority shareholders, even if the 62 per cent shareholder, the Switzerland-based Pargesa Holdings, was prepared to accept it.

First National, based in Johannesburg, approached Ansbacher a few months ago. One of South Africa's main retail banking chains, it was formed in 1987 from Barclays National Bank when the British bank disinvested under heavy anti- apartheid pressure.

Ansbacher management is likely to be relieved at the appearance of a new suitor. The worry about Singer was that the two banks were so similar in structure that Ansbacher was likely to be dismantled with heavy job losses in a takeover. A foreign, non-merchant bank acquirer might be less likely to break it up and more likely to invest in its expansion.

The outcome of the talks with First National, which declined to comment, should be known by October.

Pargesa indicated 18 months ago that it wanted to sell its bank shareholdings. Its Ansbacher stake has fallen sharply in value as the shares have slumped to the current 26p from 90p in 1990.

Ansbacher has at times been tinged by scandal: Lord Spens, a former director, was involved in the Guinness affair, and its current chairman advised Robert Maxwell on a deal now being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office. The merchant bank made a pre-tax loss for 1991, but a small pre-tax profit in first half of 1992.