Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

A global surge in initial public offerings has so far eluded Sub-Saharan Africa. 

Companies have raised a record $467bn on the world’s stock exchanges during the first eight months of this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Yet in Johannesburg, home of Africa’s largest bourse, 21 companies have instead delisted in 2021. Smaller exchanges in Accra, Nairobi and Lagos have been similarly quiet. 

The world’s highest unemployment rate and a lack of confidence in SA's economic recovery are pushing companies towards more affordable funding sources. Firms in the continent’s most-industrialised nation, especially smaller businesses, have been finding it easier and cheaper to raise debt to fund growth than issue shares, Mate Munalula, co-head of markets for Citigroup in the country, said an interview. 

“Being listed can be perceived as more onerous, procedural and administrative when running a small entity,” he said. 

Another reason is that technology and digital start-ups in the country are in short supply, yet that sector has accounted for a major part of the global IPO rush. Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Global raised $4.4bn in the US in June, while KakaoBank, South Korea’s first internet-only lender to go public, sold $2.2bn of stock and soared more than 70% in its trading debut.

SA has two fast-growing tech firms in branchless lender TymeBank, backed by billionaire Patrice Motsepe, and payments company Yoco, but both have sourced cash outside the equity-capital markets. TymeBank raised $109m in February, at a valuation of R8bn ($530m). Yoco attracted $83m in July.

In Nigeria, fintech companies are emerging on the radar of high-profile investors. But US firm Stripe agreed to pay $200m to buy out Lagos-based Paystack, and Flutterwave said it would look to New York as a potential IPO destination. 

Wireless carriers MTN and Airtel Africa have indicated a willingness to spin off fast-growing fintech or mobile-money arms, valuing them at billions of dollars. Though in both cases an IPO could be years away. 

“When you look at disrupters that are listing to attract capital, in SA we’ve been quite a laggard,” said Kyle Wales, portfolio manager at Flagship Asset Management. “E-commerce penetration in SA is 3%. In China the same ratio is 25%.” 

Three Firms That Opted Out

  • Comair, the SA partner of British Airways, was put into bankruptcy protection amid Covid-19 travel restrictions. The carrier was later rescued by private investors and delisted.
  • Cartrack Holdings , a transportation-data company, was taken private by its founder and listed on Nasdaq under the name Karooooo. The firm needed more exposure to international investment funds focused on technology, CEO Zak Calisto said.
  • Revego Africa Energy, an investor in South African renewable projects, had planned to raise as much as R1.5bn but opted instead to pursue a capital raising in the private market, CEO Reyburn Hendricks said.

The lack of IPOs and exodus from the JSE could also be linked to SA’s near-stagnant economy and spiralling unemployment figures. The corruption-tainted tenure of former President Jacob Zuma and the subsequent coronavirus pandemic have weakened investor risk appetite, said Citi’s Munalula, while a riot and looting spree that followed Zuma’s arrest in July only exacerbated the situation. 

“The long and short of it is SA's economy is the over-riding factor,” Munalula said. 

Still, there are reasons to believe in a recovery. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict GDP will expand 4.2% in 2021 after contracting the most in a century last year. Rising investment in renewable energy worldwide should also bode well for SA firms, which could benefit from a new government policy allowing more private power generation.

A number of companies are privately contemplating listings from 2022, according to Richard Stout, head of equity capital markets at Standard Bank Group. 

Those to have made their intentions public include medical-cannabis firm Cilo Cybin Pharmaceutical , while Bushveld Minerals, a London-listed vanadium miner, has said it remains interested in a potential listing on the JSE.

SA's large state-owned companies may also have scope to raise funds via an equity sale, though this may “require some mindset change,” according to John Slettevold, head of SA at UBS Group. “The state-owned enterprises in SA have flooded the markets with debt and there should be space to add equity to this,” he said.

“We certainly don’t subscribe to the view that the JSE is facing an existential crisis,” Stout said. 

Bloomberg. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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