Kenya’s Biggest Retailer Plans Stake Sale After Debt Surge

  • Nakumatt in talks with foreign, local investors for 25% stake
  • Company tripled debt in past five years as it expanded

Nakumatt Holdings Ltd., Kenya’s biggest retail chain, is in talks to sell as much as 25 percent of the business to reduce debt that more than tripled over the past five years as it expanded.

The company, based in the capital, Nairobi, is in discussions with foreign and domestic investors that are expected to be concluded within weeks, Chief Executive Officer Atul Shah said by phone Friday. The company grew its number of stores to more than 60 across Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania that resulted in debt ballooning to 15 billion shillings ($148 million) from 4 billion shillings in 2010, he said.

“We are negotiating on the price of the stake, so we cannot comment on the value of the business,” Shah said. “We hope to conclude talks soon, in the next one month.”

Kenya has sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest-growing retail market, with consumer spending having surged 67 percent over the past five years, according to the London-based Oxford Business Group. That’s attracted new entrants including Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Game chain, Carrefour SA of France and Gaborone, Botswana-based Choppies Enterprises Ltd. Formal retailers account for as much as 40 percent of sales in East Africa’s biggest economy, second only to South Africa and double that of Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy.

Nakumatt, which begun as a mattress store half a century ago, targets mostly middle- and upper-income customers. Indigenous competitors include Tusker Mattresses Ltd., or Tuskys, Naivas Ltd. and Chandarana Foodplus.

Expansion Program

Nakumatt announced plans in 2015 to add 14 new branches over two years as it sought to boost annual revenue to more than $1 billion. Last year, it concluded the purchase of Yako Supermarkets Ltd., a closely held retailer.

“They could have expanded too quickly,” Eric Musau, a senior research analyst at Standard Investment Bank, said by phone. “It is a surprise because it does not seem like they invested too heavily.”

Uchumi Supermarkets Ltd., Nakumatt’s smaller rival and Kenya’s only publicly listed chain store, is battling to repay creditors as much as 3.6 billion shillings. The company emerged from a four-year receivership in 2010 after a government bailout.

“Like any other business operating in this market, Nakumatt Holdings has faced a number of unforeseen business challenges,” the company said in a statement on its Twitter account Thursday. Challenges include higher operating costs and extraneous factors such as risk management against security threats.

Kenya has faced a series of attacks by Islamist militant group al-Shabaab over the past five years that targeted an upmarket shopping mall in Nairobi, where Nakumatt had a flagship store, and a university in the northeast of the country.

Nakumatt is also renegotiating terms with suppliers and is “undertaking a management enhancement program that involves recruiting and retaining qualified personnel,” according to the statement.

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