Given the current flurry of financial news, most global banks probably failed to notice when Uganda conducted its first IPO in four years this March, with Kampala-based National Insurance Co. raising $4.6 million.
Renaissance Capital did not. “We want to be in Uganda and Tanzania,” says an enthusiastic Andrew Cornthwaite, the investment banking chief and deputy CEO at RenCap.
The Moscow-based bank already employs about 90 professionals in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe and plans to add half a dozen more. The opportunity in Africa today is similar to that in Russia in 1995 — the year renegades from Credit Suisse’s Moscow office started RenCap, now one of Russia’s top investment banks — only better, says Cornthwaite. “Africa is infinitely more sophisticated than Russia was 15 years ago — they have existing capital markets laws and some pretty efficient exchanges.”
RenCap set up shop in Nigeria and Kenya in 2007. Its CEO Stephen Jennings predicts that Africa will produce the world’s best investment returns over the next 20 years. But sub-Saharan finance remains embryonic. The capitalization of all listed companies in Nigeria is about $40 billion, and Kenya ranks second with less than $15 billion. The deals that RenCap’s investment bankers are chasing include an expected $50 million to $100 million share issue for Zambia Sugar.
Even greater opportunities will come as Africa’s markets “normalize” alongside unprecedented civil peace. Case in point: Nigerian central banker Sanusi Lamido Sanusi put eight major banks into receivership during the Great Recession. “The Nigerians have closed whole banks down and sent people off to prison very publicly,” Cornthwaite notes. “No one in the U.S. or Western Europe would dream of doing this.” The Nigerian stock market’s All-Shares Index jumped by a third this year.
RenCap is getting some grief from Africa, however. Its Zimbabwe subsidiary became entangled in a quest by Russian metals billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns half of RenCap, to buy the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Last month a congressman from New Jersey, which would lose the team to Brooklyn if the deal goes through, accused RenCap of hobnobbing with Zimbabwean officials who are subject to U.S. sanctions. Cornthwaite says his bank avoids all contact with sanctioned Zimbabweans, but will stick with the country: “You have assets in copper, gold and the whole periodic table that will rerate as soon as a few inevitable events happen.”