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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Oprah sheds a healthy portion of Weight Watchers shares

In our bi-weekly round up of what the world's billionaires have been doing, Oprah ditches part of her stake in the slimming company and lays on the charm with Wall Street's private equity titans

Winfrey made $110 million this month by selling 2 million Weight Watcher's shares.  Robyn Beck / AFP
Winfrey made $110 million this month by selling 2 million Weight Watcher's shares. Robyn Beck / AFP

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey, who spurred a comeback at Weight Watchers when she bought a stake in it in in 2015, is cashing in on the turnaround.

Winfrey made $110 million this month by selling 2 million shares of the company, most of which came from exercising options, according to a regulatory filing. She also donated 361,000 shares to her charitable foundation, which sold them for $22.6 million.

The billionaire media mogul unloaded the shares to diversify her investment portfolio and make the donation, according to a statement from the company on Tuesday. Winfrey won’t sell additional shares this year, Weight Watchers said.

“I am deeply committed to Weight Watchers and continue to see a bright future for the company,” Winfrey said in the statement.

The announcement came the same week that Winfrey set out to woo Wall Street. Whiles she may have moved past the talk of her running for president, on Tuesday she found an audience of Wall Street titans who could easily back her campaign.

Winfrey joined private equity billionaires Leon Black and Henry Kravis, as well as hedge fund founder Dan Och, at a fundraising luncheon for the Museum of Modern Art to accept the David Rockefeller Award “for enlightened generosity and advocacy of cultural and civic endeavours".

At the Golden Globes in January, Winfrey accepted the Cecil B. DeMille award with a rousing speech promising “a new day” for women, minorities and the downtrodden, sparking speculation about a presidential run - and sending shares of Weight Watchers International higher. At the MoMA luncheon, by contrast, Winfrey got a few minutes with a Wall Street-heavy crowd at an event that’s one of the top draws on New York’s philanthropic circuit.

“The last time I accepted an award, I accidentally wound up running for president,” Winfrey, 64, told the audience. “So I’m going to choose my words very carefully today.”

Winfrey, an avid collector, spoke about the “transformative” power of art and the role it has played in her life. She said she started with buying inexpensive postcards and eventually progressed to bidding on masterpieces at auction.

“At a time when the world seems to have gone off its rocker, the notion that art can sometimes actually remind us of who we really are suggests the possibility that there is something more and there is something better,” she said.

Winfrey will get more time with business leaders in May, when she chairs the Robin Hood Foundation benefit, a gathering of about 4,000 people from top banks, hedge funds and Fortune 500 companies. Winfrey attended the event last year, sitting with Kravis and Ken Griffin.

Winfrey, who’s been busy promoting her new movie “A Wrinkle in Time,” owns almost 10 per cent of Weight Watchers.

Billlionaire Johann Rupert is the founder and chairman of Richemont.  Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Billlionaire Johann Rupert is the founder and chairman of Richemont. Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Johann Rupert

Remgro is in advanced talks to buy fibre provider Vumatel as South Africa’s richest man seeks to consolidate the country’s expanding broadband infrastructure industry, according to people familiar with the matter.

A deal by billionaire Johann Rupert’s investment vehicle would give an equity value of closely-held Vumatel of about 1.1 billion rand ($93 million), said the people.

Mr Rupert would then combine Vumatel with rival Dark Fibre Africa, in which Remgro owns a majority stake, the people said. The deal could still fall through, and if so Vumatel would consider selling shares on Johannesburg’s stock exchange, they said.

A spokesman for Dark Fibre declined to comment. A spokesman for Remgro said she didn’t have an immediate comment and Vumatel couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The deal would allow Dark Fibre, which has a network of about 10,000 kilometres, to expand into South Africa’s fast-growing fibre-to-home industry, which Vumatel helped to pioneer after entering the market in 2015. Households in cities including Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are increasingly seeking higher speeds and more capacity to handle rising consumption of data for services including streaming.

Dark Fibre trails Econet Wireless Global unit Liquid Telecom in terms of network size. The company has raised 1.25bn rand in debt funding and extended a revolving credit facility to 1.1bn rand to fund expansion, according to its website.

Talks between Dark Fibre and Vumatel started in October and could be concluded within the next two months, said the people. Banks working on the deal include Standard Bank Group and Investec, one of them said. Neither lender could immediately be reached for comment.

Mr Rupert has a net worth of $8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Johannesburg-based Remgro also owns stakes in international private hospital operator Mediclinic International and South African spirits maker Distell Group.

Beltone Financial Holdings, owned by Egyptian billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris, is seeking to acquire a major stake in pan-African bank Oragroup. Diego Levy/Bloomberg
Beltone Financial Holdings, owned by Egyptian billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris, is seeking to acquire a major stake in pan-African bank Oragroup. Diego Levy/Bloomberg

Naguib Sawiris

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris’s Ora Developers will next month start building a luxurious $2bn housing estate on the outskirts of Islamabad and is eyeing further projects as it taps demand from overseas Pakistanis.

The ‘Eighteen Islamabad’ development will feature more than 1,000 homes, a golf course and a mall on 2.25 million square metres of land. It will take six years to complete, said Tarek Hamdy, chief executive officer of the development. Mr Sawiris holds 60 per cent in a joint venture with local firms Kohistan Builders and Developers and Saif Group, owned by Pakistan’s prominent Saifullah family.

Pakistan’s real estate sector has seen a boom in recent years as militant violence has receded. Economic growth in the nation of more than 200 million people has risen to around 5 per cent as China finances more than $50bn on infrastructure projects across the country. House prices have more than doubled since 2011, according to property website Zameen.com, and housing projects are mushrooming in cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar,

“The market isn’t saturated,” Mr Hamdy said in an interview at his office next to Islamabad’s Margalla hills, adding that Mr Sawiris’s firm is eyeing potential other projects that may be announced by the end of this year.

Prices for a three bedroom home on the estate start at 30.5 million rupees ($275,395) and about $400m will be invested in the development in the first two years, Mr Hamdy said.

“You can develop a project at very reasonable margins” between 10 to 40 per cent, he added. “The highest quality still makes money.”

Mr Sawiris is not new to Pakistan. He previously set up one of Pakistan’s first mobile phone companies, Mobilink, now the nation’s largest cellular firm by subscriber numbers.

A shortage of housing units will boost construction activity in Pakistan as the urban population grows by nearly 30 million by 2027, BMI Research said in a December report. Construction has been one of the largest recipients of foreign direct investment and in the first seven months of this fiscal year $380 million was invested in the sector, according to central bank data.

Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and former chief executive officer of Microsoft. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and former chief executive officer of Microsoft. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Steve Ballmer

Billionaire Steve Ballmer’s plans to move the Los Angeles Clippers to a new home in Inglewood, California, has prompted a lawsuit by New York Knicks’ owner James Dolan, who owns the Forum just down the block.

MSG Forum, a unit of billionaire Dolan’s Madison Square Garden company, accused the city of Inglewood and its mayor of duping it into giving up its long-term lease and purchase option on 15 acres of parking space near the Forum only to find out that the city was secretly negotiating with the National Basketball Association’s Clippers franchise to build a new arena on the land.

According to the complaint filed on Monday, MSG invested $100m in the Forum, the former home of the LA Lakers, to transform it into a live music venue. The proposed Clippers arena, a short distance away, will also host family shows and concerts and will be competing with the Forum, MSG said.

Mayor James Butts “repeatedly told the Forum that the city needed the land for a ‘technology park’ that would attract new businesses to Inglewood,” MSG said in a statement. “To the Forum’s shock, the ‘technology park’ turned out to be the proposed Clippers arena.”

Inglewood, southwest of downtown Los Angeles, is undergoing a construction boom centered around its new National Football League stadium that will be the home of the Rams and the Chargers. The Clippers said in June that it had a three-year exclusive agreement with Inglewood to explore building a state-of-the-art basketball arena, training facilities and team offices in the city. Inglewood said last month that it will prepare an environmental impact report for the project.

“The LA Clippers are committed to a fully transparent, publicly reviewed project that will bring thousands of new jobs and massive economic benefits to the city of Inglewood and its residents,” Chris Meany, the project manager for the proposed arena, said in a statement. “MSG has been threatening a lawsuit for months and while we only just received a copy, it appears there are no new issues that weren’t previously made and dismissed by the city of Inglewood.”

Representatives of the city had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

Mr Ballmer, the former chief executive officer of Microsoft, bought the Clippers in 2014 for $2bnwhen the NBA was about to seize the team from its previous owner, Donald Sterling.