Bahrain's Unicorn eyes bank acquisitions

DUBAI (Reuters) - Bahrain-based Unicorn Investment Bank said on Sunday it was looking to spend up to $2 billion to buy banks in the United Kingdom, Southeast Asia and the Gulf and plans to arrange $1.5 billion of Islamic bonds by year end.

Fred Stonehouse, head of strategic mergers and acquisitions at the Islamic bank, said it planned to convert any banks it acquires to comply with Islamic banking rules that ban interest.

“In the UK we see potential businesses we could acquire and Islamicise as appropriate,” he told Reuters.

“In Southeast Asia we have two opportunities we are looking at and in the (Gulf Arab region) we have four deals we are looking at ... We are in no rush to conclude these,” he added.

“The total acquisition value of these would be in the range of $1.5 billion to $2 billion ... There are some mid-range institutions and one fairly sizeable one.”

The bank also said it would buy family-owned foreign exchange firm Bahrain Financing Company, without giving details of the cost of the deal.

Stonehouse said Unicorn planned to expand Bahrain Finance Company both organically and through acquisitions over the next two years in Bahrain, Kuwait and the Gulf Arab region.

The deal would be concluded by the end of October, he said.

Unicorn is also looking to arrange $1.5 billion worth of sukuk in the Gulf Arab region by year end, Majid al-Sayed Bader al-Refai, the bank’s managing director and chief executive said.

In January Unicorn bought 80 percent of U.S. electronics firm Victron Inc for $70 million in its second purchase in the United States in two months. In December, it bought 75 percent of Open-Silicon Inc, a microchip maker.

Reporting by Jason Benham, Editing by Lin Noueihed