LONDON?Atlas Mara Ltd., the listed Africa banking group co-founded by Bob Diamond, Thursday said high operating costs and bad loans in Zimbabwe dragged it to a $6.7 million net loss in the first quarter.
Weak currencies in the countries Atlas Mara operates in, including Nigeria and Zambia, wiped $1.1 million from first-quarter results. Costs to acquire Finance Bank of Zambia PLC and make other potential purchases were $6 million. Revenue in the three months was $51.9 million, up 30% on the same 2015 quarter. Operating costs excluding mergers and acquisitions rose to $51.7 million from $30.7 million in the first three months last year.
Mr. Diamond co-founded Atlas Mara with Anglo-Ugandan entrepreneur Ashish Thakkar in 2013, to build a banking group across sub-Saharan Africa. Its businesses include BancABC in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, Banque Populaire du Rwanda and a 29.9% stake in Union Bank of Nigeria PLC. The group has been hit by worsening economies and a weak dollar in its main markets and last month said it might merge with Barclays PLC's African unit, Barclays Africa, if a planned bid by Mr. Diamond and Carlyle Group LP for part of the business succeeds.
"This level of performance is clearly below where we want to be, notwithstanding the challenges of a more difficult economic backdrop and the full impact of weaker exchange rates across our markets," Chief Executive John Vitalo said.
In an update on the agreed purchase of Finance Bank of Zambia, Atlas Mara Thursday said it aims to complete the roughly $73 million transaction by the end of the second quarter.
The company said its southern Africa segment fared the worst in the quarter, with a $6.3 million net loss, as it took fresh provisions in Zimbabwe. The UBN stake contributed $6.9 million in net profit and Atlas Mara's east Africa business in Rwanda made $700,000 in the quarter.
"We have clear cost reduction plans and revenue initiatives to ensure that the group is positioned to tackle current headwinds," Mr. Vitalo said.
Atlas Mara had reported a $500,000 net profit in the first quarter of 2015. After stripping out merger and acquisition expenses and other one-off costs, it made a $2 million net loss in the first quarter compared with a $9 million net profit in first-quarter 2015.
The company didn't make any statement Thursday about the potential merger with Barclays Africa. Barclays started selling down its 62.3% stake in Barclays Africa this month and still holds 50.1% of its shares. Several potential bidders say they are interested in buying shares in the unit, which includes Absa in South Africa.
Mr. Diamond told Atlas Mara shareholders last month that funding was in place for a bid by a consortium that would include his private-equity firm, Atlas Merchant Capital, and Mr. Thakkar's Mara Group.
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