Markets & Finance

Ascent Capital makes first investment in Ethiopian firm


Nation Media Group Staff Retirement Benefit Scheme trustee Wallace Kantai (left) with Ascent partner Guy Brennan at the Nation Centre on February 25, 2015. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA

Ascent Capital has invested in an Ethiopian medical diagnostic laboratory company, Medpharm Holdings Africa, in its first private equity deal.

The private equity firm effected the $2.5 million (Sh228 million) equity investment in the company through its Ascent Rift Valley Fund arm. It did not, however, disclose the stake acquired.

Medpharm will use the funds to increase the number of tests and services offered to clients including cancer screening.

“Another area of expansion for Medpharm will be in wellness testing which will allow clients to identify areas of concern early through annual health reviews, hence reducing the burden on the government’s health budgets,” said Guy Brennan, a partner at Ascent Capital.

The investment will also fund country and regional expansion. For Ascent Capital and investors in the fund, the deal will offer access to Ethiopia’s healthcare sector that serves the second largest population in Africa.

The private equity firm raised $50 million (Sh4.56 billion) in commitments from international and local investors including the Kenya Power pension fund that committed $4 million (Sh365 million). The electricity pension fund became the first in the country to invest in a PE fund.

Nation Media Group (NMG) pension fund has followed suit investing $1 million (Sh92 million).

Ascent has now raised a total $5 million (Sh456 million) from Kenyan pension funds. Fund managers expect the trend to continue since the investments help diversify portfolios.

READ: Ascent East Africa fund eyes Sh5.4bn by mid-year

“For us, it is about diversification of assets and lowering the risk,” said Stanlib chief investment officer Kenneth Kaniu. Stanlib manages NMG’s Sh2.5 billion fund.

Cash managers and trustees said the profit warnings by firms listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) is expected to affect the performance of funds and investments in private equity should offer some relief to members.

“It opens up a new investment class for us, which will help us generate good returns for our members. We are also confident that this is the first of many investments of this kind by our fund,” said Wallace Kantai, a trustee of the fund.

Ascent plans to invest up to $7 million (Sh639 million) in SMEs across Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia for a period of between five and 10 years.