Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Naspers aims to invest in machine learning and list new unit

Africa's biggest company gets shareholders' approval to list Prosus unit covering assets including Tencent stake and expand through cutting-edge technology

Bob Van Dijk, chief executive of Naspers, which is creating a new entity called Prosus to hold assets including a 31% stake in Chinese internet giant Tencent. Bloomberg
Bob Van Dijk, chief executive of Naspers, which is creating a new entity called Prosus to hold assets including a 31% stake in Chinese internet giant Tencent. Bloomberg

Naspers is looking to invest in machine learning as Africa’s largest company by market value seeks to expand following an Amsterdam listing of assets including a stake in Tencent Holdings.

The South Africa internet and technology group spent about $3 billion (Dh11.01bn) on its various ventures around the world last year, including Indian food-delivery service Swiggy and Russian classifieds site Avito. Machine learning - a subset of artificial intelligence - is another area of interest, as is online education, executives said at the weekend.

“We are interested in investing in machine learning,” chief executive Bob van Dijk told shareholders at the annual general meeting in Cape Town. “The amount of data is exploding - last year we collected more data in the world than ever before.”

Naspers has taken stakes in myriad businesses around the world to try and replicate its success with Chinese internet giant Tencent, which it backed as a start-up 18 years ago, according to Bloomberg. The growth of that company has helped transform Naspers from its roots as a publisher of South African newspapers, which now makes up about 0.5 per cent of the business.

The spin-off and listing of assets into a new entity known as Prosus is partly to help narrow a valuation gap between the Tencent stake and Naspers as a whole, which is about $125bn vs $99bn at current prices. The move is also intended to ease Naspers’s dominance of Johannesburg’s stock exchange and attract new investors, particularly in Europe.

Shareholders voted to support the move immediately after the AGM. Naspers will retain a 73 per cent stake in the new company, which will also be headed by Mr Van Dijk.

“Since the announcement the discount has already been closing,” he said after the vote. “Shareholders have been overwhelmingly supportive of the Prosus listing. It will not solve every problem but it’s a positive step.”

The company said it was on track to list the Prosus unit on Euronext Amsterdam on September 11, along with a secondary, inward listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Naspers, which expects to own 73 per cent of Prosus, was forced to delay the listing from June, following an administrative error by a third party involved in the planned flotation, Reuters reported.

Machine learning is the art of teaching computers to perform certain tasks without explicit instructions. “If you think of AI as the planet we are trying to get to, machine learning is the rocket that gets us there,”said Pedro Domingos, DE Shaw & Co.’s head of research into the subject.

Updated: August 24, 2019 04:56 PM

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