Canada's Fairfax gets approval to buy 51 percent stake in Indian lender

Fri Dec 30, 2016 8:07pm EST
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By Promit Mukherjee and Tanvi Mehta

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A unit of Canadian investment firm Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd (FFH.TO: Quote) received preliminary regulatory approval to buy a 51 percent stake in Catholic Syrian Bank (CATH.BO: Quote), the chairman of the Indian lender said on Friday.

The Reserve Bank of India has been keen to attract foreign investments into banks and earlier this year eased some of the ownership rules to attract more buyers.

Catholic Syrian bank, based in the southern state of Kerala, filed for an initial public offering of nearly $80 million last year, but ended up not listing because of tough market conditions.

"We got the permission (from RBI) yesterday and expect to close the deal over the next three to four months," said S. Santhanakrishnan in a phone interview.

"The next step for us is to appoint valuers to reach a proper valuation for the 51 percent stake after which we will start negotiations," which would be followed by seeking final approval from India's banking regulator, Santhanakrishnan said.

A potential investment from Fairfax India Holdings Corp, a unit of Fairfax which is controlled by Canadian businessman Prem Watsa, raises hope that more foreign players will invest in private lenders in India, where about half the population still has no access to formal banking.

"RBI and the government are aware of fact that they need to make the Indian banking system more vibrant and banks in India would require more capital," said an analyst at a domestic brokerage.

"This is a welcome move. My understanding is that we might see more such approvals by the regulator."   Continued...

A man walks past a Fairfax Holdings sign directing shareholders to the meeting, at the annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, April 9, 2014.  REUTERS/Mark Blinch