Dubai's Habtoor Grp eyes UK bank stakes - chairman

Barclays shareholder confirms up to $1.3bn available to invest in UK banks, European hotels.
Dubai's Habtoor Grp eyes UK bank stakes - chairman
By John Irish
Wed 19 Aug 2009 09:04 PM

Dubai-based Al Habtoor Group, a stakeholder in Barclays, has up to $1.3 billion to invest in British banks and hotels in Europe, its chairman said on Wednesday.The company, one of the UAE's largest family businesses, was one of several Middle East investors that bought into Barclays in 2008 as the lender looked to boost its capital to weather the financial crisis.

"If there is opportunity in a good English bank share, we are also ready to study it and to buy some shares," Khalaf al-Habtoor told Reuters in an interview.

UK banks were an attractive option due to the "transparency of English law" which left "no grey areas", Habtoor said. "We are not speculative buyers. We want to be strategic partners."

British banks were among the hardest hit in the global credit crisis, prompting the UK government to intervene to keep some of the country's biggest banks afloat.

When asked about increasing his stake in Barclays, Habtoor said: "I cannot comment on this now."

The group is a holding company for businesses ranging from construction, hospitality, automotive, real estate, education, and others, run by Habtoor, who is reputedly worth $1.1 billion according to the 2009 Forbes billionaire's list.

Habtoor said the group was actively looking at making acquisitions of 5-star hotels in landmark sites in Europe.

"We are only looking for a few things ... hotels mainly in capitals like London or Paris," Habtoor said.

Its overseas interests are divided, with 75 percent in the UK and 25 percent in France, he said.

Habtoor said the company was also studying several projects in the Gulf Arab region and airports and hospitals in former Soviet states.

The company's turnover in the first half of the year exceeded 9 billion dirhams ($2.45 billion), with full-year turnover expected to exceed 21 billion dirhams, the company said earlier on Wednesday, without providing comparative figures.

Habtoor said revenue growth was being driven by car exports and "very high" hotel occupancies, especially in Lebanon.

"(We've seen) huge exports in the car business especially to the former Soviet Union and other Arab countries," he said. (Reuters)

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