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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Sales of power plants, football clubs and more set to fuel big year for regional deals

IPOs raised $3.2 billion in the first quarter, making it the most active start to a year since 2015

Saudi Arabia's football clubs, such as Al Hilal, are among a raft of asset sales likely to boost deal making in the Mena region this year. Al Hilal Football Club
Saudi Arabia's football clubs, such as Al Hilal, are among a raft of asset sales likely to boost deal making in the Mena region this year. Al Hilal Football Club

Asset sales from Saudi power plants and football clubs to African energy firms are set to help deliver a bumper year for deals in the region.

Investment banks expect the pace of transactions in the Middle East and Africa seen in the first quarter to gain momentum. Mergers and initial public offerings in the first three months of this year were higher in value than in the same period last year, while bond sales were the second-highest on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Bankers say that with a good pipeline of deals to work on, activity should increase further.

Globally, economic growth and relatively cheap funding have encouraged firms to buy rivals. In the Middle East, lower oil prices are prompting governments to seek external funding from bond and asset sales. IPOs raised US$3.2 billion (Dh11.75bn) in the first quarter, making it the most active start to a year since 2015, the data showed. Completed mergers worth $4.2bn exceeded the $3.6bn a year earlier.

“Momentum that built up over the course of 2017 continued into Q1 2018 with a number of successful debt and equity issuances,” said Matthew Wallace, head of global banking for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey at HSBC. “The primary driver is investor demand. We continue to see high levels of flows into global emerging market funds, with investors drawn to the strong growth prospects for the region.”

Saudi Arabia is embarking on an economic overhaul that includes the sale of a stake in oil company Saudi Aramco – that could be the largest IPO ever – and the privatisation of businesses including the stock exchange, power plants and football clubs. Energy minister Khalid Al Falih has hinted that the share sale, which Saudi officials have said could value the company at $2 trillion, may not occur until next year. Elsewhere, Abu Dhabi has been merging banks, sovereign wealth funds and is also looking to sell some of its investments.

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Abu Dhabi sovereign fund Mubadala Investment is planning the IPO of Emirates Global Aluminium this year, and potentially one or two other companies, chief executive Khaldoon Al Mubarak told Bloomberg in February. Meanwhile, Gems Education, the private school operator backed by Blackstone, has hired banks for a potential listing this year, sources told Bloomberg in December.

“A number of sizeable equity capital market and M&A deals are being contemplated,” said Faisal Rahman, co-head of the financing and solutions group for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, at Deutsche Bank. “Timing is a bit uncertain, but we expect 2018 to be a busy year.”

Some of the biggest equity deals this year have been in Africa. Steinhoff International raised 7.1bn rand (Dh2.19bn) by divesting a stake in South African financial services firm PSG Group, while Cape-Town based insurer Sanlam raised 5.7bn rand selling new shares.

More deals look set to come from Africa. Nigerian energy conglomerate Sahara Group said it revived plans for a share sale last month, while the operator of Johannesburg’s stock exchange expects improved sentiment following Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as South African president to encourage companies to sell shares in initial public offerings this year.

Citigroup is expecting to see its best year yet for investment banking in Africa, Miguel Azevedo, Citigroup’s head of investment banking for the region, told Bloomberg in February.

Sovereign bonds helped drive debt issuance in the Middle East and North Africa to more than $100bn, its highest ever, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Deal volumes in the first quarter of this year didn’t match 2017 levels, but several large deals have yet to occur, including expected bond sales by Saudi Arabia.

“Debt capital markets have witnessed another great start of the year,” said Sjoerd Leenart, head of global corporate banking and regional head for Central & Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa at JP Morgan. He expects to see M&A to pick up in the second half of the year, and said “the IPO pipeline is strong and should finish the year on positive momentum”.

A period of slower economic growth in Saudi Arabia is also helping to make buyouts in the region’s largest economy more viable, as business owners accept lower valuations, bankers say.

“Saudi Arabia has always been a tough place to do transactions because of the difference between sellers and buyers’ expectations,” said Yaser Moustafa, senior managing director at private-equity firm NBK Capital Partners.

“Now we are seeing people consider what I’d call ‘fair valuations’ for the first time.”