x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Bahraini private equity firm raises exposure in Europe with €140m deal

Bahrain's Investcorp pays €140m to acquire paysafecard.com, an Austrian online payment company.

The Bahraini private equity firm Investcorp has acquired an Austrian online-payments company for €140 million (Dh651.1m), as it increases its exposure to European markets.

Investcorp, which invests in developed markets, conducted a number of eye-catching deals in the 1980s and 1990s. It took control of paysafecard.com Wertkarten through Skrill, a subsidiary.

Paysafecard allows those without bank accounts to pay for products online by converting money into "eVouchers" at retail outlets.

In spite of the continent's economic mire, many opportunities were still present in Europe for investors prepared to take risk, said Mohammed Al Shroogi, Investcorp's president for Arabian Gulf business.

Both Skrill and paysafecard.com were experiencing rapid growth as retail activity increasingly moved online, he added. The combined group has about 27 million users and has signed up 130,000 merchants.

"Prudent investors are finding golden opportunities that have emerged post the euro-zone crisis, as reflected in our five acquisitions so far this year," Mr Shroogi said.

The company has bought GL Education, an education firm based in the United Kingdom, and an undisclosed Spanish company, and has made two further acquisitions in Germany through IPH, a French industrial equipment supplier.

Investcorp has completed a string of high-profile deals, including the initial public offerings of Tiffany & Co in 1987 and Gucci in 1995.

However, the Bahraini company has faced unfavourable trading conditions more recently as a result of turbulence inworld markets.

It has been a tough year for Bahrain's financial sector. Arcapita, a Sharia-compliant investment bank, was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in the United States in March. In May, Gulf Finance House announced a US$110m (Dh404m) debt restructuring.

Bahraini investment boutiques have traditionally sought to tap liquidity from deep-pocketed investors in neighbouring Saudi Arabia to invest internationally and in the region. But increasing numbers of Saudi companies are starting to muscle in on the same markets.

Alkhabeer Capital, a Jeddah-based investment firm, said it would expand outside of the Middle East for the first time with an investment programme worth some $400m during the next two years.

Some of that spending would target residential and industrial property in Saudi Arabia and the UK, said Sherif Selim, the director of asset management and the head of real estate at Alkhabeer Capital.

"We are considering more mature markets such as the US and Europe and we are in the process of identifying which markets we will tackle next and how," he said.