x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Aabar takes stake in Spain's Santander bank

Aabar Investments, with interests ranging from luxury cars to space travel, has taken a US$328 million stake in the Brazilian unit of Spain's biggest bank.

Aabar Investments, with interests ranging from luxury cars to space travel, has taken a US$328 million (Dh1.2 billion) stake in the Brazilian unit of Spain's biggest bank. It is the latest in a string of overseas deals involving the Abu Dhabi Government-controlled company that is fast becoming the region's most acquisitive international investor after snapping up stakes in ventures that include the luxury car maker Daimler and Virgin Galactic, owned by Sir Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur.

The company said yesterday it had bought American depositary shares issued by the Banco Santander (Brasil), a unit of Spain's Santander. "We are delighted to have had the opportunity to invest in such a strong and successful entity," said Khadem al Qubaisi, the chairman of Aabar. "We hope to continue to strengthen and develop the existing relationship we have with Banco Santander and look forward to working with them in the future," he said in a statement to the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange.

Aabar, which is majority-owned by the International Petroleum Investment Company, has been busy targeting international investment opportunities in recent months to develop its asset base. That objective forms part of the Government's strategy to diversify its economy away from oil and broaden its industrial base. "If there is a pattern, then it is diversity in investments," said Ali Khan, the managing director and head of brokerage at Arqaam Capital. "The move fits into their strategy of diversifying their assets. Banco Santander is generally considered to be a very good bank. They have had limited fallout from the subprime crisis, although they had some impact in the Spanish mortgage market."

Financial services is one of five key investment areas for the company, Mohamed al Husseiny, the chief executive of Aabar, said last month. The other areas are property, cars, infrastructure and aerospace. He said the company was continuing to look for opportunities in financial services, which may include, but not be limited to, taking stakes in banks. In April, the company purchased the Swiss-based private-banking unit of America International Group (AIG), now known as Falcon Private Bank.

In its latest deal, Aabar hopes to take advantage of Santander's ambitious plans to open 600 branches in Brazil over the next four years and extend its operations into lending to companies and home buyers. With more than 2,000 branches in the country, the company is Brazil's fourth-biggest non-state bank and holds a market share of about 10 per cent by assets. Santander raised $8.1bn earlier this month with an initial public offering (IPO) of shares in its Brazilian unit, in what was the largest IPO in the world so far this year. Investors in Brazil and the US bought the shares in the form of American depositary shares.

The South American country's economy has rebounded following a short-lived recession, and is proving an increasingly attractive investment environment. Hampered for years by a boom-and-bust economy, policy makers have helped turn the country around through reforms designed to control inflation and government debt. Aabar has been actively acquiring stakes in foreign companies since the start of the year, taking stakes in a variety of ventures to add to its investment portfolio.

Mr al Husseiny said last month that Aabar was considering buying a majority stake in a project to build an 80-storey hotel and residential tower in New York. In August, the company struck a deal with the Algerian government and five German companies, including Daimler, to manufacture up to 10,000 cars and lorries a year in the North African country. In July, Aabar bought 40 per cent of Daimler's interest in Tesla Motors, a maker of electric sports cars, the same month it paid $280m for a 32 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic.

Also in July, the company formed a partnership with Berndorf in Austria to launch an investment vehicle to target technology companies and European property. Closer to home, Aabar has signalled its intention to develop property holdings and said earlier this year it would buy 14 plots of land in Abu Dhabi - including some on Reem Island, in Aldar's Al Raha development, at Rawdhat Abu Dhabi and Saraya - comprising a total investment of about Dh2.7bn.