Telecoms tower. Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ
Telecoms tower. Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ

Helios Investment Partners, an Africa-focused private-equity firm, is looking to do more deals in SA even as the country grapples with the longest recession since 1992 and the worst power cuts on record.

“It really does seem that the pessimism in SA is becoming overdone,” Tope Lawani, co-founder and managing partner at Helios, said in an interview. “SA, notwithstanding the challenges that it’s having both from the human toll of Covid-19, but also attendant economic challenges, paradoxically is becoming more interesting for us.”

SA is facing the deepest economic contraction in almost 90 years, which is being compounded by surging debt, a depreciating currency and the coronavirus pandemic. Business leaders have warned that SA faces a choice between loosening the grip of vested interests to embrace radical — and likely painful — reform or risking a sovereign debt crisis and more permanent scars.

“SA … has a lot of excellent companies, a lot of excellent entrepreneurs and we are now seeing for the first time, that in rand terms, assets are starting to get fairly valued and may be inexpensive,” Lawani said. “At the same time, the currency is weak.”

The investment firm is on the hunt for opportunities in sectors such as financial technology, nonbank financial services, insurance, asset management and energy. The company is hoping to conclude some transactions by the first quarter of 2021, depending on how its due diligence goes, he said, without identifying specific deals.

In the energy space, Helios Investment Partners is particularly interested in midstream gas infrastructure because of the country’s power crisis, Lawani said.

Helios Investment Partners is mulling the possibility of imitating a Ghanaian liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in SA. The terminal, which is almost complete, will receive, store and regasify the LNG before piping it to customers, said Lawani.

SA has had the most power cuts in 2020 since at least 2007, according to a report by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, due to its poorly maintained generation fleet that is prone to breakdowns.


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