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ICBC approved to acquire S. African bank
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The China Banking Regulatory Commission has approved a plan by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) to take a stake in a South African bank, ICBC officials confirmed on Sunday.

ICBC, China's biggest lender, announced on Oct. 25, 2007 that it had agreed to acquire a 20-percent stake in South Africa's Standard Bank, the largest commercial bank in Africa, for 5.46 billion U.S. dollars.

The deal has already been approved by shareholders of both banks along with regulators in South Africa, including the South African Registrar of Banks and the Johannesburg Securities Exchange.

ICBC officials said that examination and approval procedures by the local regulators for overseas branches of Standard Bank were under way. The strategic collaboration, which allowed ICBC to become the top shareholder of the Johannesburg-listed Standard Bank, "is conducive to the further deepening of Sino-Africa economic and trade cooperation,"Jiang Jianqing, ICBC's chairman, said upon initial announcement of the deal.

"From a strategic perspective, ICBC has been seeking opportunities to expand its international business, in particular in Africa, given strong trade linkages and the close and longstanding friendship between China and South Africa.

"As many of our large clients seek investments in Africa, the demand for cross-border financial services is accelerating. Standard Bank, with its market leading position in South Africa and a true-pan-African footprint, represents the best organization with which ICBC can partner," Jiang added.

Standard Bank has 1,501 branches and a presence in 18 African countries and major financial centers in Europe, North America and Asia.

Jacko Maree, Standard Bank Group chief executive, said, "A partnership between Standard Bank and ICBC is attractive as each party brings numerous complementary benefits to the relationship. Both banks can benefit through the creation of new revenue streams, access to the new partner's expertise and sharing distinctive local market knowledge and expertise."

According to Pan Gongsheng, a ranking ICBC executive in charge of the bank's merger and acquisition business, it's possible that ICBC will complete another acquisition deal in 2008.

The bank still plans to buy into Thailand's ACL bank, even though Bangkok Bank postponed the sale of a 19.3-percent stake in ACL to ICBC, which had been set for the end of 2007.

Bangkok Bank's sale of the ACL stake will wait for the promulgation of Thailand's new commercial law in 2008, which is expected to raise the stake foreign-funded enterprises may hold from 25 percent to 49 percent.

Kulathida Sivayathorn, executive vice president of Bangkok Bank, said in mid-December that ICBC might purchase another 30.6 percent of ACL from the country's Ministry of Finance.

ICBC would hold a 49.9-percent stake in ACL bank if both deals succeed.

Pan said that U.S. financial institutions, battered by the sub-prime mortgage crisis, might also be on ICBC's list "if such a deal facilitates our strategic development."

ICBC agreed to acquire a controlling stake in Indonesia's Halim Bank in December 2006 and Macao's Seng Heng Bank in August 2007.

Jiang said: "International business accounts for only three percent of all our business and we hope to increase the proportion to ten percent."

Listed in Shanghai and Hong Kong, the ICBC overtook Citigroup in July 2007 as the world's biggest bank by market capitalization.

(Xinhua News Agency February 3, 2008)

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