BEIRUT: Cedrus Invest Bank seems close to acquiring Standard Chartered Bank in Lebanon although both sides are still negotiating the fate of the employees and other administrative matters, bankers said Tuesday.
“It seems that Cedrus is about to close the deal with Standard Chartered in couple of weeks or so,” one banker familiar with the talks told The Daily Star. “But both parties still need to iron out some matters such as the fate of the employees and issues related to the financial position of the bank.”
The bankers interviewed by The Daily Star said the talks were quite hectic because Standard Chartered officials in London were still reviewing several administrative and technical files before proceeding with the deal.
Sources said that the deal was worth around $23 million.
Bankers said First National Bank had not dropped from the race yet but noted that its chances of acquiring the bank were not very strong.
“Cedrus and Standard have yet to decide on the fate of all the employees. Cedrus will probably keep most of the 100 employees, but it definitely will not keep them all,” an insider explained.
He said Cedrus would also try to find out if Standard still owed money to the state such as taxes and fees.
Standard Chartered has decided to sell its retail operations in Lebanon and only retain a representative office in Beirut.
The bank, which has three branches, saw its deposits shrink in 2012 and 2013 and most analysts attribute this fall to fierce competition from well-established banks.
Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh told The Daily Star earlier that, contrary to some rumors, was not against maintaining the license of Standard Chartered if an investment bank decided to buy it.
If the parties finalize the agreement soon, Cedrus will diversify its activities to include commercial operations in Lebanon.
One banker said that despite the small deposits of Standard Chartered, its portfolio was excellent.
“They have close to a $100 million portfolio [in] lending, and this is quite impressive,” the banker said. “The top management at Standard are very qualified and will be a good asset to Cedrus if the deal is completed.”
Ahli International Bank, which is owned by the Amman-based Jordan Ahli Bank PLC, is still seeking to find a buyer after Byblos Bank’s offer was turned down in January.
“The problem of some banks seeking to exit Lebanon is that they put a high price tag that is far above the valuation of the market,” a banker said.
He said potential buyers take into consideration the quality of the bank’s assets and margin of profits it makes each year.
Bankers said they believed that Ahli International Bank would eventually sell its operations in Lebanon even if it did not receive the current asking price.