Fri, 19 Jul 2019

Naspers' biggest shareholder is considering whether to reduce its R245bn stake in Africa's biggest company because of concern it's overexposed to a single stock, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

South Africa's Government Employees Pension Fund is being encouraged by its manager, the Public Investment Corporation, to reduce its Naspers shareholding of about 16%, said three of the people, who asked not to be identified as the talks are private. Any decision is ultimately up to the GEPF.

Naspers's value has grown 72-fold since 2004 on the back of the success of an early-stage investment in Chinese games developer Tencent, which listed in Hong Kong that year.

That's turned Naspers into a R1.53trn global entity. But it's also made the company dependent on China, where it has little influence. The shares gained as much as 1.9% in Johannesburg as Tencent gained in Hong Kong.

''Naspers success is dependent on the Chinese government,'' said Tahir Maepa, deputy general manager for members affairs of the Public Servants Association, whose 240 000-members make it the biggest labour union representing contributors to the GEPF. "It's a huge risk, not only for the PIC, it's a risk for the South African economy and the JSE," he said, adding that the GEPF should "definitely" cut its stake.

The rapid growth also means Naspers accounts for almost 25% of a shareholder-weighted index on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Naspers sees profit boost ahead of spin-off

While that will be reduced when the company spins off its Tencent stake and other internet-focused assets into a new vehicle listed in Amsterdam next month, its 73% holding in that entity, known as NewCo, will only cut its weighting in Johannesburg by about a quarter, according to Naspers. Furthermore, Naspers and NewCo are both reliant on the Tencent investment, which is worth more than the company as a whole.

Tencent has been struggling with a Chinese government crackdown on addiction to computer games, and regulators are currently working on an overhaul to the approval process for new titles.

Naspers to invest R9.4bn in Indian food delivery group

The debate over the stake in Naspers has been going on for months. One element being discussed is whether the GEPF should change its holding from an arrangement known as a full SWIX, or shareholder-weighted index, to one called a capped SWIX, where a single stock can make up a maximum of 10% of the funds, three of the people said. Any sell down would be done in phases, one of the people said.

Phased Selldown

Last October, another of the PIC's clients, the Unemployment Insurance Fund, sold Naspers shares to switch from a full SWIX position to a capped one, the fund said in an emailed response to questions. Prior to this it had used derivatives to hedge the risk but found this too costly, it said.

What to do with the GEPF's Naspers stake is being considered by the fund's board of trustees, one of the people said. Pierre Snyman, a member of the board and chairperson of the Public Servants Association, declined to comment.

Some senior members of the GEPF are opposing cutting the shareholding, said one of the people.

"The PIC does not publicly discuss its strategy on specific investee companies," Deon Botha, its head of Corporate Affairs, said in a response to queries.

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