Private Equity Builds African War Chest Amid Commodity Rout

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Private-equity companies amassed a $4.3 billion war chest for investment opportunities in Africa last year as the global commodity rout and weakening local currencies cut prices of potential target companies.

The fundraising was the highest since at least 2010 and compares with $1.9 billion in 2014, according to the London-based African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association. The industry group represents investors such as Dubai-based Abraaj Group Limited, which raised $990 million in its Africa Fund III, and London-based Helios Investment Partners LLP with $1.1 billion in its Investors III Fund.

Bloomberg noted that as commodity prices collapsed around the world over the past year, the South African rand tumbled 26 percent against the dollar, the Zambian kwacha is down 40 percent and the Mozambican metical lost 31 percent. Nigeria is under increasing pressure to devalue the naira, with forward currency markets predicting it will weaken by 20 percent over the next three months.

“We’re trying to look for companies that benefit from a weaker currency, that are capable of exporting,” said Shaun Zagnoev, a partner at Ethos Private Equity Limited, in Cape Town. The company raised $800 million for its latest Fund VI. “During periods of uncertainty there’s often increased deal opportunity.”

Ethos sold companies acquired by its first four funds and is in the process of exiting the fifth, according to spokeswoman Chelsea Wilkinson. Fund V’s projected net internal rate of return, a measure of the profitability of its deals, will be 18 percent to 20 percent, the company said last month.

Carlyle Group LP, the world’s second-largest manager of investment alternatives to stocks and bonds, is targeting banking, consumer goods, manufacturing and back-office automation services in Africa, according to Marlon Chigwende, manager of the New York-based company’s $698 million African fund.

“Valuations are lower and getting lower over time,” Chigwende said by e-mail. “This is presenting interesting opportunities over the medium-term, as we see sound businesses attracting softer valuations. Liquidity is also becoming an issue in many economies, which also opens up opportunities for private equity investors.”

Investors are waiting for Nigeria to devalue the naira and make it easier to transfer dollars out of Africa’s largest economy before committing cash, according to Natalie Kolbe, an investment principle at London-based Actis LLP. The firm has $7.6 billion under management, with about $3 billion invested in businesses on the continent, including $300 million in Nigeria.

Restrictions on access to foreign currency were imposed by Nigeria’s central bank last year, while Ethiopia requires exporters to convert 90 percent of their foreign exchange into local currency. Bank of America Corp., the largest distributor of dollars to Angola, stopped deliveries to Angola in November after the Financial Action Task Force urged the government of Africa’s second-largest oil producer to increase anti-money laundering efforts.

“Assets look very cheap on a dollar basis,” Kolbe said by phone from Johannesburg. “Investors need to know they can get their capital out. The moment there is any type of capital restriction, you find that the foreign buyers start to slip onto the sidelines and adopt a wait-and-see attitude.”

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