A new round of M&As for banking?

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While recent banking M&As dating back to a few years ago failed to take off, this time around new elements are at play which could drive the expected consolidation. For one, Malaysia now has five new banking players in the form of parties holding digital banking licences

PETALING JAYA: Reports that banking magnate Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan is mulling a stake sale in Hong Leong Bank Bhd (HLB) has spurred speculation of a new round of banking mergers and acquisitions (M&As) in the Malaysian market.

While recent banking M&As dating back to a few years ago failed to take off, this time around new elements are at play which could drive the expected consolidation.

For one, Malaysia now has five new banking players in the form of parties holding digital banking licences. And among those parties is a consortium led by Grab Holdings Ltd – a global brand with seemingly deep pockets that may be needed if indeed the tech giant is keen to buy a slice of Malaysian banks.

However, Malaysian banks are not cheap. HLB’s shares, for example, trade at a 1.5 time multiple of its book value – the second most expensive bank after Public Bank Bhd at 1.9 times.

Banking magnate Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan is mulling a stake sale in Hong Leong Bank Bhd (HLB). This report has spurred speculation of a new round of banking mergers and acquisitions (M&As) in Malaysia.

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Quek owns 62% of HLB via Hong Leong Financial Bhd. At yesterday’s close, HLB’s market capitalisation stood at RM45.2bil.

Grab, which is listed in the United States with a market capitalisation of some US$14.3bil (RM63.72bil), had already earlier been speculated to be keen on a slice of AMMB Holdings Bhd (AmBank), another bank which has long been said to be for sale.

Both HLB and AmBank, along with Public Bank, are the remaining banks in the Malaysian market that have yet to fully institutionalise their shareholding base.

Under the Financial Service Act 2013 (FSA), individual shareholders are not allowed to hold more than 10% stake in any local financial institutions.

However, under the “grandfather rule”, Bank Negara has exempted the likes of Quek, Public Bank’s Tan Sri Teh Hong Piow and Tan Sri Azman Hashim of AmBank to pare down their respective stakes to 10% or below.

What could be driving banking M&As among these banks is the uncertainty if the “grandfather rule” will be allowed to be passed down to the second generation of those bankers, considering their age. Both Quek and Azman are in the 80-age group, while Teh is 92.

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