ICBC in talks to buy Standard Bank's local assets, market puzzled

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the world's largest bank by market capitalization, is in advanced talks to acquire the Argentine unit of South Africa's Standard Bank, Buenos Aires-based daily El Cronista reported, citing unnamed sources close to the negotiations.

The news did not surprise the market, as recent sale rumors prompted the South African bank to deny that it was looking to sell its Argentine subsidiary. But it certainly appeared contradictory, given that the bank recently opened a new corporate building in the fashionable Puerto Madero district and that its retail unit turned a profit last year, the first time since it acquired the local subsidiary of BankBoston in April 2007, an analyst who requested anonymity told BNamericas.

Standard Bank Argentina is one of the country's top 10 banks, with 13bn pesos (US$3.24bn) in assets and 9.9bn pesos in deposits.

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ICBC acquired a 20% stake in Standard Bank in 2007.

Standard Bank is South Africa's largest bank, with operations in 17 African countries and 15 markets outside the continent. In Latin America, it also operates in Brazil, and earlier this year applied for a banking license in Peru.

Standard Bank did not return phone calls and emails sent by BNamericas seeking comments.