“Africa’s largest” Helios III private equity fund to close at $1.1bn

Leading African private investment firm Helios Investment Partners says it is about to close its 3rd Africa-focused private equity fund at the $1.1 billion limit. The firm said yesterday (12 Jan) it had already passed its $1bn target. Helios Investors III L.P. fund will “acquire and build market-leading, diversified platform companies, operating in the core economic sectors of the key African countries, with an emphasis on portfolio operations as a creator of value”, according to a press release.

The company says Africa’s attraction to investors stems from growth driven by factors specific to the continent, including economic liberalization, technology driving increasing productivity, demographic dynamics and urbanization. The Financial Times describes it as “the first $1bn-plus Africa-focused private equity fund.”

Tope Lawani, co-founder and Managing Partner of Helios Investment Partners, commented in the press release: “Much has been made of the rise of the African consumer, and that does, from time to time, give rise to potential investment opportunities. However, as discretionary incomes remain low and the cost of basic goods and services is high, Helios believes that addressing the supply side of the economy is generally more attractive.

“Helios’ strategy focuses on investing in businesses that lead the provision of core economic infrastructure: de-bottlenecking the economy; increasing efficiencies; and reducing living costs for households and operating costs for businesses.”

Economic woes bring buying opportunities
According to the Financial Times, many countries’ economic prospects are troubled by falling commodity prices. Increased interest rates in US cause capital flows out of developing markets. In an interview Mr Lawani told the paper that in the near term many African countries were going to suffer an “adverse impact” on their currencies as capital flew back to the US: “We are witnessing sharply lower commodities prices and it is reasonable to expect African currencies to lose value against the dollar,” he said.

He claimed that the downturn would turn into an opportunity for investors holding large amounts of US dollars, such as Helios. “It is an excellent time to invest: asset values are going to come down.”

From Helios Investment Partners website

From Helios Investment Partners website

Investor appetite matures
The company says that over 60% of the new capital committed comes from their existing investors, and other leading global institutional investors have joined them. The investor base for Helios III includes sovereign wealth funds (SWF), corporate and public pension funds, endowments and foundations, funds of funds, family offices and development finance institutions across the US, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Helios investment team is supported by Helios’ dedicated Portfolio Operations Group, based in Lagos and Nairobi, who work in active partnership with portfolio company management to create value within the firm’s portfolio by driving operational improvements. Helios has already made one investment through Helios III, acquiring an interest in ARM Pensions, Nigeria’s largest independent pension fund manager with over $2.2bn of pension assets under management. It has built a robust pipeline of proprietary opportunities.

Dabney Tonelli, Investor Relations Partner of Helios Investment Partners, commented: “Achieving, and exceeding, our fundraising target for Helios III underscores the global demand for experienced, institutional, Africa-focused private equity specialists and the strength of the relationships we have built with the world’s leading private equity investors.”

Helios was established in 2004 by Nigerian-born Tope Lawani and Babatunde Soyoye. It raised the previous record for Africa’s biggest private equity fund at $908m in 2011. Through various investment types, such as business formations, business formations, growth equity investments, structured investments in listed entities and large scale leveraged acquisitions across Africa, it has aggregated more than $2.7bn in cpapital commitments, according to its website.

The Financial Times adds: “Africa still attracts a tiny proportion of the world’s private equity money, even compared with other emerging regions, notably Asia and Latin America. But interest has increased recently, buoyed by strong economic growth. After stagnating for two decades, African gross domestic product per capita has surged almost 40% since 2002, fuelled by high commodity prices, the rise of a small consumer class, and cheap Chinese loans.”

Africa deals
It says that buyout groups raised $3.3bn for Africa funds in 2013, down from a peak of $4.7bn in 2007.

The FT points to US buyout private equity firms Carlyle’s $698m fund and regional deals by KKR (which invested $200m in a Afriflora, an Ethiopian exporter of roses, in June 2014 from its $6bn European fund according to this Wall Street Journal story and a KKR press release) and Blackstone. In June 2014 Edmond de Rothschild amassed $530m for its first private equity fund focusing on deals in Africa, managed by Amethis, majority-owned by the Swiss private banking group and founded by Luc Rigouzzo and Laurent Demey, two former top executives at French development financial institution Proparco. There has also been increased multinational deal-making, including French insurer Axa entering Nigeria, an alliance between SAB Miller and Coca Cola, and a merger in South Africa’s retail sector.

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