Angola's Dos Santos shifts focus in Portugal from telecoms to banks

LISBON, March 4 (Reuters) - An attempt by Isabel dos Santos to orchestrate a merger of two of Portugal’s largest banks has a better chance of success than past attempts by Africa’s richest woman to shake up Portugal Inc, analysts and industry sources say.

Much of her fortune, estimated at $3.3 billion by Forbes, comprises assets in Portugal.

Her foray into banking started in 2005, in partnership with Portugal’s richest man, Americo Amorim, when she established Banco BIC, which now has Angola’s biggest private branch network and has expanded to Portugal and several sub-Saharan African countries. She has since bought Amorim’s stake.

The daughter of Angloa’s president, she is also the second-largest shareholder in Banco BPI SA with 18.6 percent and on Tuesday suggested that BPI should consider merging with Millennium bcp as an alternative to being taken over by Spain’s Caixabank.

Caixabank, BPI’s largest shareholder with a 44 percent stake, launched its bid for BPI last month, valuing the other 56 percent at about 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion).

Dos Santos’s intervention comes just months after she tried to take over Portugal Telecom SGSP, a holding company with a key stake in Brazilian telecoms group Oi.

Like the banking proposal, dos Santos’s offer for Portugal Telecom was aimed at thwarting a third-party transaction - the proposed sale by Oi of PT Portugal, the national telecoms network operator, to rival Altice.

In the event her bid failed, leaving the sale to Altice to proceed.

But Tuesday’s move has more chance of success for a number of reasons, people close to dos Santos and analysts say, not least the fact that Millennium is willing to discuss the proposal.

Dos Santos is also likely to have the support of Angola’s state oil company Sonangol, a key player in the Portuguese banking world, one source familiar with the matter said.

Millennium’s largest shareholder is Sonangol, whose banking interests in Portugal have long competed with Isabel’s, with BPI and Millennium competitors both in Angola and in Portugal.

Now, however, “Sonangol is on board with Isabel dos Santos,” said a person with knowledge of dos Santos’s proposal. “That gives greater force to the merger proposal, that’s obvious.”

Dos Santos’s proposal still faces high regulatory hurdles since a merged BPI and Millennium would be the same size as state-owned Caixa Geral de Depositos, the country’s largest bank, with about 30 percent of deposits.

But she is also promoting the prospect of the merger creating a national champion in banking across the Portuguese-speaking world, with headquarters in Lisbon.

Andre Rodrigues, a banking analyst at Caixa BI, said that should dos Santos’s merger proposal succeed Caixabank would end up with a stake of around 14 percent of the new entity, while Sonangol and dos Santos together would own about 20 percent.

“That puts the ball squarely in Caixabank’s court - either it raises the bid price or it accepts the (merger) proposal,” said Rodrigues. (Editing by Alessandra Galloni and Greg Mahlich)