UPDATE 2-PPF gains 28% MONETA stake, focus turns to proposed Air Bank tie-up

(Adds PPF units’ results, comments, details)

PRAGUE, March 11 (Reuters) - Czech billionaire Petr Kellner’s PPF Group will boost its stake in MONETA Money Bank to 28.36%, it said on Thursday, part of a two-step attempt to gain control of the lender and grow its foothold in its home market.

PPF’s Tanemo subsidiary will acquire a 27.73% share through a just-completed tender, short of the maximum 29% it sought.

PPF, whose global assets in telecoms, media, finance and real estate totalled 44 billion euros ($52.6 billion) in mid-2020, is also in talks to combine some units with MONETA in exchange for shares, gaining a majority stake in the country’s sixth-largest bank.

PPF has proposed MONETA buy its lender Air Bank, the Czech and Slovak units of its global consumer lender Home Credit and peer-to-peer lender Zonky. Any deal needs shareholder approval, with a vote as early as April.

PPF has said MONETA could become one of the top three banks with a focus on the retail and small-business segments in a market dominated mainly by foreign owners like Belgium’s KBC , Austria’s Erste Group Bank and France’s Societe Generale .

Shares in MONETA eased on Thursday to 79 crowns - just below the 80 crown offer price - putting market capitalisation at 40.4 billion crowns ($1.84 billion).

PPF will become MONETA’s largest shareholder, paying 11.3 billion crowns in the tender. Up to 10% of shares will be settled on March 24. The rest need regulator approval.

PPF, owned by Kellner, the richest Czech businessman whose net worth Forbes estimates at $17.5 billion, is making a second attempt at MONETA.

Analysts say the new proposal values Air Bank at 22.6 billion crowns, higher than a 2019 deal that fizzled. Some shareholders have criticised any tie-up.

Air Bank, the Home Credit units and Zonky posted combined net profit of 1.5 billion crowns in 2020, a 15.6% year-on-year drop, less than others amid the coronavirus pandemic. PPF said profit for the four units could rise to 3 billion by 2023.

“We have well-established digital brands which are well-perceived on the market that are allowing us to grow,” Air Bank’s Chief Executive Michal Strcula said in an interview, adding the unit’s younger customer base was a basis for growth.

($1 = 21.9090 Czech crowns)

$1 = 0.8369 euros Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Emelia Sithole-Matarise