01/06/2017 14:18 SAST | Updated 01/06/2017 14:18 SAST

Barclays Nears Complete Exit From Africa With $2.8 Billion Share Sale

The sale is an "historic moment" for banking on the continent, said Barclays Africa boss Maria Ramos.

Maria Ramos.

Barclays cut its stake in Barclays Africa Group (formerly Absa) to 15 percent sooner than expected on Thursday, ending more than 90 years as a major presence in the continent.

The British bank, which under chief executive Jes Staley is firmly focused on Britain and the U.S., said it was selling £2.2 billion ($2.83 billion) worth of shares in Barclays Africa Group due to strong investor demand.

Barclays had said on Wednesday it would sell shares worth £1.5 billion in its second such sale since announcing plans to offload most of its African business to focus on the UK and the U.S.

The bigger share sale initially lifted shares in Barclays, which is partly relying on the funds raised to meet capital requirements identified as a concern by the Bank of England in November.

Barclays Plc had secured approval from Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba to sell down its stake in its regional unit, Barclays Africa to below 50 percent, Barclays Africa said on Wednesday.

Barclays said in March 2016 it would sell most of its 62.3 percent stake in Barclays Africa Group, giving itself two to three years to complete the sale. Its first sell down of 12.2 percent was completed in May 2016, but the bank had since been hindered by regulatory delays and political upheaval in South Africa.

Since taking over 18 months ago, Staley has scaled back the bank's geographic footprint and emphasized investment banking, although his attempts to revitalize this business have been clouded by investigations in the U.S. and Britain.

Staley has also faced criticism from investors following his attempts to unmask a whistleblower, which Barclays insiders fear could unseat him if the findings of inquiries are damning.

Barclays also faces regulatory obstacles, with an ongoing probe by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into its 2008 cash call at the height of the financial crisis and allegations by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) over mortgage mis-selling.

'Historic moment'
The sale was a "historic moment", said Barclays Africa Group Limited chief executive Maria Ramos, reported Fin24.

Barclays said it would sell the shares to large investors, including South Africa's Public Investment Corporation (PIC). Barclays Africa Group is now a standalone, integrated Pan-African business, owned by both local and international diversified shareholders.

Ramos was speaking at the bank's headquarters in Johannesburg on Thursday, reported Fin24:

"This is a defining moment for Barclays Africa, a significant opportunity to determine our own destiny and make our own decisions on what is right for a standalone African business," she said.

Being a subsidiary of large international group is "hugely beneficial", said Ramos. "But it comes with huge friction costs." Being a standalone business will allow the bank to "think quite openly and creatively" about where it wants to be in future.