Unicorn Investment Bank in merger talks

CEO also confirms plans to sell an Islamic bond worth $425mn by Q3 to fund Bahrain bank's future expansion.
Unicorn Investment Bank in merger talks
By Raissa Kasolowsky
Wed 15 Apr 2009 12:18 AM

Bahrain's Unicorn Investment Bank is in merger talks with several Gulf Arab lenders and plans to sell an Islamic bond worth $425 million by the third quarter to fund its expansion, its chief executive said on Tuesday.Majid al-Sayed Bader al-Refai also told the Reuters Islamic Banking and Finance Summit in Bahrain that Unicorn would stick to plans to spend around $2 billion on acquiring banks in the Gulf Arab region, Europe and Asia.

In addition to the merger talks, the bank was looking to acquire two Gulf Arab lenders, both in retail and investment banking, and would consider acquiring retail banks in Pakistan, India, and Malaysia as well as one in Britain or continental Europe, he said, declining to give a timeframe or name targets.

"We are aggressively looking for potential targets and securing our acquisition financing as we speak," he said.

In September, Unicorn said it was looking to spend up to $2 billion to buy banks in Europe, southeast Asia and the Gulf.

Talks on a merger with several Gulf Arab lenders outside Bahrain were continuing, he said, declining to be more specific.

Unicorn was planning to issue a $425 million sukuk with an ijara-type structure by the third quarter or "hopefully in the second quarter", Refai said. The group is in talks with two regional banks over arranging the Islamic bond issue, he said.

Plans announced last September to issue $1.5 billion worth of Islamic bonds by the end of 2008 had been postponed due to market conditions, he said.

Unicorn would "just about break even" in the first quarter, Refai said. He said it would announce a revamp to tackle the global financial turmoil, which could include lay-offs and closing operations no longer deemed profitable abroad.

"We will be announcing pretty soon ... a restructuring of the bank to go along with the crisis .... We have to take drastic action early," he said. (Reuters)

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