Paladin private equity lists education firm on AltX

South African private equity firm Paladin Capital (www.paladincapital.co.za) has listed its 76% subsidiary Curro Holdings (www.curro.co.za) on the JSE’s AltX on 2 June. Curro, which offers private schooling, aims to raise another R322.4 million ($48 million) through a rights offer after the listing, according to a news report on Fin24.com, in order to reduce the weight of debt on the balance sheet.
The rights offer will be partially underwritten as JSE-listed Paladin (PLD) will retain its majority stake and PSG Financial Services (www.psggroup.co.za), a diversified financial services firm which owns 80.6% of Paladin, will underwrite the offer. Previously Curro’s expansion was funded by debt finance provided via Paladin, including a 10-year loan of R73 mn ($10.8 mn) from the International Finance Corporation.
Curro was founded in 1998, with 28 learners receiving tuition in a church building in Durbanville. It has grown to over 5,500 learners at its 12 schools in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, all in South Africa. It plans to add 40 more in the coming 9 years and each school requires R30 mn-R70 mn capital outlay.
Curro CEO Chris van der Merwe says: “The public education sector has a huge responsibility to supply enough schools for the ever-increasing number of children, and many state schools are becoming overcrowded. Curro Holdings can complement the public sector and ease the pressure by supplying affordable private school education for children aged 4 to 18.
“Our schools are staffed by trained and experienced teachers and our tuition fees are lower than those charged by high end, more expensive private schools. As a result, we have experienced sharp growth and there is ongoing demand for our schools,” he said.
Noah Greenhill, the JSE’s head of marketing and business development at the JSE, said the AltX gives an opportunity for good quality, high growth companies to raise capital to fund future growth. “Education is a critical element in the development of South Africa and AltX plays an important role in facilitating the growth and development of companies such as Curro.”
Last year Paladin paid R52 mn ($7.7 mn) to boost its stake in Curro to 76%. Paladin chairperson Jannie Mouton wrote in the annual report: “Without downplaying the other segments, education is an industry in which Paladin believes above-average potential exists. This is where management sees significant growth in the foreseeable future.”
He said Curro offered fees of up to 40% lower than its competitors: “Curro aims to be a high-quality, value-for-money alternative.” He pointed out that only about 3% of pupils attend private schools, while 22% of South Africa’s population received private healthcare. He said few new schools were being built in middle- and upper-income areas, and waiting lists at private schools were long.
Paladin’s annual report valued the 50% stake in Curro – before the latest additional 25% stake was acquired – at R100m, representing 9% of Paladin’s total R1.167bn. portfolio. Curro operated a loss of R300,000 in 2007, then had an after-tax profit of R300,000 in 2008, R1.9m in headline earnings in 2009 and R5.2 m in 2010. Mouton said profits would not rise fast while Curro was in a growth phase “due to the amount of leverage used”.
Advtech is the only private education company listed on the JSE has a market capitalization of R2.4bn. It is the owner of brands like Crawford Colleges and Abbotts.
Last year Paladin made an after-tax profit of R208 mn when it received R354 mn from the sale if its 123.47 mn shares in Namibian fast-moving consumer goods group CIC, also listed on the JSE, to Imperial Holdings. The compounded return was 64.8% over 4 years. It also sold its stake in Lesotho Milling for R26 mn after investing R21 mn and receiving R7 mn in dividends.
Paladin’s portfolio includes listed investments such as Capitec bank, the JSE Ltd and Steinhoff as well as unlisted investments such as Curro, empowerment investment group Thembeka Capital and Protea Foundry. Paladin spent R30 mn on another 10 mn shares in Petmin, R23 mn on another 17 mn shares in Erbacon and bought another 3.8% stake in Spirit Capital and provided R50 mn of debt funding so Spirit could acquire skin care and beauty distributor Annique and fashion accessory distributor Honey. It has also recently bought a 45% interest in Energy Partners.
Full details of the portfolio can be found in Paladin’s annual report to February 2011, downloadable here.

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