Centun to build on Old Mutual deal

Nairobi – Centum Investment, Kenya’s biggest publicly traded investment firm, is courting investors to help develop one of the country’s largest commercial real-estate projects, CEO James Mworia said.

The company will seek partnerships similar to one it agreed with a unit of London-based Old Mutual last week, Mworia said January 27 in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Old Mutual Property paid $63 million for a 50 percent stake in the Two Rivers Lifestyle Centre, a shopping mall on 102 acres (41 hectares) of land where Centum also plans to build luxury apartments, schools and hospitals.

“We plan to bring in partners specifically for each project,” Mworia said in an interview at a makeshift office at the mall, which the company is billing as the biggest in eastern and central Africa. Old Mutual Property has “expressed intentions to move with us” on some of the other projects at Two Rivers and will be invited to participate, he said.

Carrefour shop

The Two Rivers mall, which takes up about 50 acres of the land in northern Nairobi, will be fully open by June. Carrefour SA, France’s biggest retailer, will be an anchor tenant at the mall, while City Lodge Hotels, a Johannesburg-based company, is building a 174-room hotel on the site. Before the year-end, Centum plans to start building 110 luxury apartments, while a five-star hotel is planned later. The mall will also have as many as 220 offices.

“We have many willing debt and equity investors, financing shouldn’t be an issue, but ensuring commercial viability is,” Mworia said. “If projects offer compelling value there is enough money.”

Centum plans to grow its assets to 120 billion shillings ($1.1 billion) by 2019, from around 46 billion shillings by increasing investment in subsidiaries including K-Rep Bank, a Kenyan lender, and Almasi Beverages, the Nairobi-based bottler of Coca-Cola beverages. Total assets stood at 9.8 billion shillings at the end of 2009.

Centum has injected 1.2 billion shillings into K-Rep and is ready to “provide capital to them if they need it,” Mworia said. It plans to grow K-Rep to be among the country’s largest banks by 2019, he said.

The company also intends to boost its 51 percent stake in Almasi Beverages.

“The shares are widely held, so the pace of accumulation is slower,” Mworia said. “We will continue acquiring what is available until everyone who wants to sell has sold.”

Shares in Centum have fallen 1.1 percent so far this year.

Growth in Kenya’s real-estate sector accelerated to 5.4 percent in the third quarter from 4.2 percent in the prior three-month period, according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data.