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Tencent

South Africa’s Naspers to sell US$10.6 billion of Tencent shares to fund new investments

The company paid US$32 million for a stake in the Chinese internet giant in 2001, and the stake is now worth US$175 billion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 March, 2018, 8:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 March, 2018, 8:22pm

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South African media company Naspers Ltd is cashing in a tiny sliver of one of the greatest venture-capital investments ever.

The company is selling US$10.6 billion of shares in Tencent Holdings, equal to 2 per cent of the stock in the Chinese operator of the WeChat messaging service, the Cape Town-based company said in a statement on Thursday.

The sale came hours after Tencent, Asia’s most valuable company, warned it would sacrifice short-term margins to spend on content and technology in pursuit of growth. While the forecast led to a 5 per cent slump in Tencent’s stock, Naspers said it still considered the company “to be one of the very best growth enterprises in any industry in the world, managed by an exceptionally able team.”

Naspers might have remained an obscure publisher of South African newspapers and operator of pay-TV services if not for its decision in 2001 to invest US$32 million in Tencent, then a little-known Chinese start-up. The stake is now worth US$175 billion and, given that Naspers has a market value of about US$125.5 billion, it means investors place no value on Naspers’ other operations and investments.

“This is a positive move from the company for investors,” said money manager Ron Klipin at Cratos Capital. “By doing this, Naspers will be able to reduce its borrowings, grow its own portfolio and slowly start reducing that underlying discount.”

Chief executive officer Bob Van Dijk has been trying to reduce the discount by looking for new investments to replicate the Tencent success; he has put cash into a range of internet companies from the US to Russia and India. Naspers would use the money from the sale of Tencent shares to invest in its classifieds, online food delivery and fintech businesses and to make other investments, it said.

The sale of 190 million shares, worth US$10.6 billion based on Tencent’s closing price in Hong Kong on Thursday, will cut the stake held by Naspers to 31.2 per cent from 33.2 per cent. It is the first time Naspers has reduced its holdings in Tencent since investing in the company. Naspers would not sell more shares in Tencent for at least three years, it said.

Investment bankers at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley are offering the shares to institutional investors. The sale should close before the Hong Kong market opened on Friday, Naspers said.