New Private Equity Fund Targets Pakistan
JS Group, a Pakistani financial services group, is the sponsor and a large investor in the new JS Private Equity Fund, which was closed on Dec. 31 at $158 million.
The fund, launched in 2006, is likely the third or fourth private-equity fund to invest solely in Pakistan. There are also several regional funds with a mandate to invest in Pakistan. Compared with neighboring India, however, Pakistan has a virtually virgin private-equity market.
In Karachi, the benchmark KSE-100 stock index rallied 47% in 2007 through Dec. 27, making it one of the best-performing emerging markets and nearly matching the gains of India's Sensex index. In comparison, Indonesian shares gained 52% and Brazil 40% in 2007.
"I could understand why a lot of foreign investors are a little spooked by what is happening in Pakistan," said Stephen Smith, partner at JS Private Equity. "Those less experienced in emerging markets will become very nervous."
After Bhutto's killing, the stock exchange was closed for several days and when it reopened on Dec. 31, the market tumbled 4.5%. Subsequently, however, the market has slowly pared its losses. The KSE-100 index is virtually unchanged on the year as of late Thursday.
Smith, however, believes that the political premium is likely overstated and that Pakistan's economic growth and unpenetrated private-equity market offer big opportunities for investors willing to take the risk.
Pakistan has a population of $160 million and its GDP growth has averaged 7% over the past five years. According to a recent United Nations report, Pakistan's GDP is expected to grow 6.2% or more in 2008.
Pakistan is one of the so-called "Next 11" countries singled out by Goldman Sachs as having the potential to offer tremendous investment opportunities, akin to those of leading emerging markets.
"The real thrust of the fund is to provide expansion capital to businesses that are domestic-demand driven," Smith said. "Things have really changed in Pakistan over the last five years. You have the emergence of a fledgling middle class."
The fund sees opportunities in both export-related industries, such as textiles, leather and medical supplies, as well as domestic-demand related industries, such as consumer goods, media and advertising. Smith also sees opportunities in inefficiencies in infrastructure, transportation and logistics, as well as agriculture and horticulture.
"[About] 25% of its economy is agricultural and horticultural and yet the amount of wastage of those products is extraordinarily high, because the infrastructure points are not very efficient," Smith said.
The JS Private Equity Fund has already made two investments. The first is a control investment in Optimus, the Hertz franchise in Pakistan, which specializes in long-term vehicle contract-leasing to businesses. The second is a minority investment in Engro Asahi Polymer & Chemicals, the only Pakistani producer of PVC resin.
Focus on institutional investors
JS Group has been doing private-equity style deals in Pakistan for a long time, but it was only in 2006 that it decided to create a formal fund, targeting professional institutional investors.
With a $40-million investment, CDC Group, a British government-owned fund of funds that invests in emerging markets, is the largest investor in the JS fund. Other investors include the International Finance Corporation; Samba, one of Saudi Arabia's leading financial groups; the Asian Development Bank; the Swiss Investment Fund for Emerging Markets; and PROPARCO, a subsidiary of the French Development Agency dedicated to financing the private sector.
"We're essentially betting on the long term, putting aside short-term volatility. Long-term the economy will win," said Brian Lim, portfolio director at CDC Group.
"We're essentially betting on the long term, putting aside short-term volatility. Long-term the economy will win."
— Brian Lim, CDC Group
"What we did look at was the history of the economy over successive generations of rulers," Lim said. "There did seem to be an economic will for liberalization, for FDI [foreign direct investment]. The one certainty is the economy has worked very well over the recent past. We're hopeful that things will resolve themselves on the political front."
Another reason to enter the Pakistani market is that there is very little competition among private-equity players, Lim said.
"In many sectors there were companies that could grow even faster, but the capital wasn't there," he said.
While neighboring India is experiencing a private-equity boom, Pakistan remains largely overlooked by the industry. There are only a handful of other private-equity funds solely dedicated to Pakistan. Among them are the $100-million TMT-SEAF Pakistan Growth Fund and the $300-million Abraaj BMA Pakistan Buyout Fund L.P. Several regional funds also have a mandate to invest in Pakistan.
In comparison, there are approximately 110 to 120 funds focused primarily on India, according to estimates from the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association.
That estimate looks conservative compared with that of Evalueserve, a global research and analytics firm, which estimates that approximately 200 funds are actively investing or fundraising in India.
"It's a very, very different market from India and China," Smith said. "We like to think we're helping to develop the market. We're a long away from what I'd call a competitive market for private equity. It means that we have to do a lot of patient education."
Source: MarketWatch, January, 2008