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Carlyle creates sub-Saharan Africa investment fund

PARIS -- Carlyle last week became one of the first major private equity players to launch a dedicated sub-Saharan Africa fund, underscoring the growing investor interest in the continent's growing middle class.

The U.S.-listed alternative investment manager has raised US$698 million — almost US$200 million above its initial target — from both African and international investors wanting to profit from the region's expanding pool of consumers with extra cash to spend.

Marlon Chigwende, co-head of the firm's sub-Saharan Africa buyout advisory team, said the fund would focus on investments in the consumer, logistics, financial services and telecommunications sectors.

So far it has made two investments: the Export Trading Group, a supply chain manager headquartered in Tanzania and J&J Africa, a logistics business based in Mozambique.

“The success of the fundraising reflects investors' appetite for the strong economic growth that the region has experienced over the last decade, as well as the prospects for future economic development across the continent,” Chigwende said in a statement.

Sub-Saharan Africa attracts a tiny proportion of the world's private equity cash — only a quarter of the amount invested in India alone, on a basis adjusted for gross domestic product — but that is beginning to change.

The number of private equity deals in the region tripled last year compared to the level in 2012, according to a survey by Deloitte and Africa Assets published last month, driven by a growing number of higher-value deals in the energy sector.

“Confidence for PE in Africa is certainly increasing. Track records are deepening, growth is strong, risks are manageable and (firms) continue to rate the region highly amongst their emerging market options,” said the report.

Growing Middle Class

Other investors, like Carlyle, are being drawn by the potential of the region's rapidly growing middle class.

The African Development Bank, one of the fund's cornerstone investors, estimates that about a third of the region's 1.0 billion people are now middle class consumers, which they define as someone who earns at least US$4 a day and has some money to spend beyond the bare necessities.

The bank says that by 2060 that could have grown to more than 42 percent of the population, at more than a billion people.

“The region has been the fastest growing developing market in the world outside of China,” said David Rubenstein, co-founder of Carlyle, which manages assets worldwide worth about US$189 billion.

However, tapping into that growth is not without risks.

Earlier this month the International Monetary Fund cut its sub-Saharan Africa 2014 growth forecast by 0.7 of a percentage point to 5.4 percent, citing concerns about domestic strife and shaky demand for natural resources.

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