Standard Chartered Plc will not rule out acquisitions in Africa, even as it focuses on expanding its sub-Saharan presence from the ground up, the bank's recently appointed Africa CEO said.

Standard Chartered, which makes about 10 percent of its profit in Africa, is targeting Nigeria and Ghana and aims to more than double its Nigerian branch network to 75 outlets by next year, Diana Layfield told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.

Layfield, appointed in June and previously the head of strategy and corporate development for the London-based bank, aims to do more project and trade finance deals in Africa.

We absolutely would not rule out acquisitions in Africa. We always look at opportunities available in our footprint. The challenge for us is the price has to be right and the timing has to be right and the opportunity has to be right, Layfield said at the bank's Johannesburg's offices.

Typically things in Africa have not managed to stack up along those criteria.

Banks from developed markets are increasingly scouting Africa for deals, particularly cross-border trade or funding for commodities projects. The continent remains a tough market for foreign lenders, who tend to have a limited local presence.

Standard Chartered has more than 7,000 African staff in 16 countries, mainly in sub-Saharan markets where it has a long-standing wholesale and retailing banking presence.

While Standard Chartered ranks 11th this year in investment banking fees from Africa -- well behind top-ranked Morgan Stanley and second-ranked Rand Merchant Bank -- the bank is a major player in project finance.

It has generated $403 million (256.6 million pounds) in fees from Africa project finance this year, according to Thomson Reuters data. That puts it behind only South Africa's Standard Bank , which has brought in estimated fees of $618 million.

FOCUS ON WEST AFRICA

Layfield, a graduate of Oxford and Harvard and a former McKinsey consultant, said Nigeria -- Africa's most populous nation -- and Ghana would be key growth areas, given their vast oil resources and burgeoning small businesses.

The challenge for us in turbulent economic times is taking what will inevitably be a limited investment budget and focusing it in the right place.

Nigeria and Ghana in particular will be critical growth engines for the future, she said. Those are areas we absolutely can't afford to neglect.

The bank is also considering applying for a full banking licence in Angola, where it currently has a representative office, Layfield said.

Market players had previously speculated that Standard Chartered might bid for Nedbank after rival HSBC last year walked away from talks to buy a majority stake in South Africa's fourth-largest lender.

However, Layfield said that any expansion in South Africa would not be into retail banking.

Within South Africa we would look to expand our corporate business in particular. We have no aspirations to build a retail presence at the moment here, she said.

(Editing by Ed Cropley)