Little-known Mercantile Bank has seemingly become a market darling overnight, catching the eye of foreign investors, a big four bank and the country’s largest asset manager. The bank, owned by Portuguese state-owned banking group Caixa Geral de Depósitos, will be the proud new purchase of one of four bidders by the end of the year. In the running are Capitec, Nedbank, a Public Investment Corporation/Bayport Financial Services consortium, and a consortium comprising Grindrod Bank and investment company Arise. So what’s the big appeal? Mercantile is small, with customer numbers in the tens of thousands (not millions) and a balance sheet a fraction of the size of commercial rivals. Mike Brown, CE of Nedbank, described the possible acquisition as "bolt on" and unlikely to affect market shares. Still, Mercantile punches well above its weight and has a number of attractive qualities. For one, Caixa is not a willing seller, immediately giving the asset a certain allure. The European Centra...

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