Barclays Group Africa CEO Maria Ramos addresses the media on the banking group's results in Sandton, Johannesburg.  Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Barclays Africa CEO Maria Ramos. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

THE Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which manages about R1.5-trillion in assets on behalf of the Government Employees Pension Fund, is keen to increase its stake in Barclays Africa if the group’s parent in London sells down.

A sell-down is seen as an opportunity for domestic investors to reclaim the banking asset from British control.

If there was a deal on the table, the corporation "would be keen to participate and increase our position", PIC CEO Daniel Matjila said from Davos.

It was "an opportunity for us to reclaim what we sold", he told Business Day. "It’s an opportunity for South Africans to take advantage and create a South African champion."

But so far, there had been "no deal on the table", he said.

The PIC is the biggest South African investor in Barclays Africa, with a 5.44% stake — valued at about R5bn at current market prices.

It is the second-biggest investor after Barclays.

Asked if Barclays Africa CEO Maria Ramos had engaged the PIC about the talk of a sale, Mr Matjila said: "I fortunately had a chance to chat to the local CEO. She said at this stage it’s all rumours."

On Friday, Barclays Africa Group said it would not comment on market speculation.

The talk of a sell-down comes less than three years after Barclays increased its stake in Barclays Africa Group to 62.3% from 55% in an R18bn deal. In that transaction, Absa bought eight of Barclays’s African operations to form the Barclays Africa Group.

Barclays had acquired its 55% stake in Absa Group in 2005 for $5.5bn, an equivalent of about R30bn more than 10 years ago.

News that Barclays might sell down Barclays Africa started flowing after a report from the UK-based Financial Times last month.

The news came about a month after the Johannesburg-based Barclays Africa halted its Project Serengeti plan, aimed at rebranding Absa to reflect the colours of the London parent firm.

Asked to comment on whether there was a link between Project Serengeti being put on ice and the talk that Barclays was looking to cut its interest in Barclays Africa, the banking group said: "With regards to a rebrand, we have consistently said that we would consider a rebrand when the timing is right.

"We have no current plans to rebrand our branches to Barclays from Absa.

"Absa is a strong brand and we will continue to refresh and update it in both our marketing and physical channels," the company said.

The talk of a sale by Barclays also comes as US-based Chevron looks to sell its 75% shareholding in South African operation Caltex.