India and China continue to show huge growth prospects as increasingly affluent populations look to spend their new-found wealth, said the head of emerging markets private equity fund of funds CDC Group.
As global demand falters, emerging markets that fuelled their economic growth by supplying cheap goods and services to western economies are seen suffering.
But growing wealth among Chinese and Indian populations will buoy companies focused on their domestic economies, said Richard Laing, chief executive of the British government-backed investor.
“I would say there is still massive potential in India and China,” said Laing.
Despite global shocks, the Indian economy is still growing at 5 to 6 percent a year, said Laing, while China rebounded from its slowest quarterly performance in a decade to nearly 8 percent growth in the three months to end-June, according to official statistics.
“There is a huge population of hundreds of millions of people living on less the $2 a day — there is the potential for people to increase their wealth and that population will need to be served by the private sector,” he said.
Consumer-focused businesses, such as restaurants, hotels and retail chains continue to perform strongly, said Laing.
“China frankly has opportunity across the scale,” said Laing, but said CDC, which has net worth of 2.5 billion pounds ($4.10 billion), is focusing on funds doing deals in the small and mid-cap segments — transactions of up to $10 million.
“If you are more of niche player in the mid-cap sector, you’ve got greater opportunity and probably better value,” said Laing, adding that deals are less visible and less subject to political pressure than larger deals.
CDC funds new commitments to private equity funds from returns from previous investments. As exits remain thin on the ground due to investor caution over future company performance, the firm is finding it has less new cash to invest.
While CDC has over 1 billion pounds ($1.64 billion) of cash, that money has already been pledged, and it is now reining back on new commitments, said Laing.
“Our level of commitment is going to be significantly lower in the next couple of years than it has been,” he said.
In 2008, CDC made new fund commitments of $885 million after pledging $2.1 billion in 2007, which included its cornerstone investment in the 2.9 billion euro ($4.10 billion) fund raised by Actis.
Despite the squeeze on its finances, CDC is still backing firms focused on sub-Saharan Africa, a region growing at similar rates to India, said Laing.
Favoured managers include firms such as Helios and Atlantic Coast Regional Fund that can ride out risks in one country thanks to their spread across a number of economies.
But political and economic risk in sub-Saharan Africa is always over-emphasised, said Laing.
“The private sector in Africa has this wonderful way of keeping going even when there is political unrest,” said Laing.
The firm has had investments in Zimbabwe and will consider re-investing if the economy and political situation stabilise.
“People we talk to are saying Zimbabwe may now start to come back — and we would want to be there,” said Laing.