BPOPF keeps faith as Wilderness goes private

Wilderness' premium comes from its luxury offering set deep in tourism heartland
Wilderness' premium comes from its luxury offering set deep in tourism heartland

The country’s single largest private investor, the Botswana Public Officers Pension Fund (BPOPF), has chosen to retain a healthy stake in Wilderness Holdings which delisted from the Botswana Stock Exchange this week.

By the publication of the 2018 Annual Report last July, the BPOPF, through several fund managers, held about 10.59 million shares or a 4.5 percent stake in Wilderness Holdings, earning it a place in the top five shareholders. The pension fund, which boasts P60 billion in assets, held 10.61 million shares in Wilderness by the delisting. Wilderness exited the Botswana Stock Exchange on Wednesday afternoon, completing the four-month process triggered by a takeover bid led by long-time director and CEO, Keith Vincent in partnership with US private equity asset managers.

Vincent and his partners had offered other shareholders P546 million or P6.25 per share to buy back their interests and take the pan-African tourism group private.

BusinessWeek is informed that in the months from the publication of the 2018 Annual Report last July, the BPOPF’s fund managers had actually increased the pension fund’s stake in Wilderness. The pension fund’s latest equity position actually represents a decrease, sources said. BPOPF’s fund managers for Wilderness include dominant players in the local market such as African Alliance, Bifm, Allan Grey and others.

“When the delisting offer came, nearly all the fund managers acting for BPOPF sold their investments in Wilderness except for one,” an insider said. “While the pension fund currently holds 10.6 million which is higher than 2018, that stake represents a reduction from what it was prior to the delisting offer.

“The fund managers increased their stakes during Wilderness’ 2018/19 financial year, before reducing it when the offer was announced.”

Meanwhile, the contested 11.8% stake held by the Botswana Opportunities Partnership (BoP) was also sold off during the delisting offer. BoP was an investment vehicle created by Capital Management Botswana (CMB) in partnership with the BPOPF under a P500 million equity management mandate.

The two parties fell out from 2017 and, following extensive legal battles, CMB is currently undergoing liquidation under a High Court order.

It is understood CMB’s statutory manager, Peter Collins, handed over the BoP stake to the pension fund, prior to the liquidation proceedings against CMB. The decision to cash in the BoP stake thus came from and to the benefit of BPOPF.

At the time of the delisting, the BoP stake was worth P174.6 million, a handsome return on the P150 million it was bought for in March 2016.

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