Covid-19 hits African private equity exits

The pandemic has exposed some of the inherent weaknesses in Africa's private equity industry.

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Africa’s private equity industry has been partly shielded by the impact of Covid-19 due to the continent’s relative lack of cases, the dominance of development finance institutions and its prior exposure to crises, but partners fear the pandemic’s impact on exits, according to a report.

The Covid-19 Response Report by the Oxford Business Group and the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association found that the Africa-focused industry raised $1.1bn in funds and arranged 81 private equity deals totalling $700m in the first half of the year, with financials, IT, and consumer discretionary accounting for 49% of deals by volume. The pandemic sparked renewed interest in education and healthcare – the latter accounted for the largest share of deals by value at 24%.

The AVCA says that the prominent role of development finance institutions (DFIs) in Africa’s private equity industry offered resilience, with some DFIs introducing strategies to shield their investments from the pandemic and most investments already armed with strict environmental, social and governance criteria. Other DFIs have pooled their expertise into working groups to respond to the crisis.

Furthermore, the AVCA says that African fund managers were better able to provide support and enable continuity at portfolio companies, having already dealt with challenges in Africa including shorter supply chains, more debt and less inventory.

“This built-in preparedness ensured that many portfolio companies were able to absorb some of the initial shocks to global supply chains and local demand,” says the report.

Exit fears

Nevertheless, the pandemic has exposed some of the African private equity industry’s inherent weaknesses. Weak exit environments, political risk and currency fluctuations have all been exacerbated by the pandemic, and African governments are unlikely to offer financial assistance to distressed companies.

The uncertainty has led fund managers in sub-Saharan Africa to close their funds at smaller sizes during the pandemic, with some anticipating a reduction in capital inflows, particularly from European commercial investors and Asian institutional investors. An AVCA survey in April found that 49% of respondents expected a 6-12 month delay in capital deployment.

Over 90% of respondents listed the financial impact of the pandemic as their top concern, with over half concerned by a potential global recession and around 45% fearing a dip in consumer confidence. That has impacted confidence around exits, with 57% saying that exit opportunities were the greatest challenge in Africa in the small to medium term. 13 exits were recorded in the first half of 2020, compared to 25 in the first half of 2019 and 45 for the year. Exits are further complicated by travel restrictions, which are impeding the ability of investors to carry out due diligence, says the AVCA.

Nevertheless, several high-profile exits have been concluded this year, including the $288m acquisition of payments company DPO Group by Dubai-based Network International in July and the $500m acquisition of remittances firm Sendwave by World Remit in August, suggesting that investors retain faith in the longer-term potential of compelling Africa-focused companies.

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