South Africa's Naspers swoops on Middle East with Souq.com buy

Emerging markets media empire Naspers has taken a significant minority stake in Dubai-based Souq.com.
Written by Lance Harris, Contributor

Souq.com, the self-styled 'Amazon of the Middle East', has confirmed long-running speculation that it is selling a stake in its business to South African web and media group Naspers. The e-commerce site announced this week that it has secured a new round of investment from Naspers and existing shareholder Tiger Global Management.

The company has not disclosed the value of the transaction, but claims in a statement that it is "the most significant investment of its kind in the Arab world" since Yahoo acquired Maktoob in 2009. Middle Eastern business publication Arabian Business  pegs the value of the deal at $40m.

With a market capitalisation of R231bn ($26.7bn), Naspers is the biggest media group in Africa. The Souq.com deal is the latest step in an 15-year global expansion that has seen Naspers grow from a South African print and broadcast media company into global internet, media and pay TV group with revenues of around R56.5bn for fiscal 2012.

Naspers has assets in around 130 countries, most of them in the emerging markets of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe.

Naspers rode to prominence as an emerging markets e-commerce and online media play on the back of a shrewd $32m investment it made in China's TenCent in 2001 when that company was pre-revenue. Today, TenCent Holdings is one of the most valuable internet groups in the world with a market cap of nearly HK$500bn ($64.5bn).

In addition to its 34 percent stake in TenCent, Naspers is also a significant shareholder in Russia's Mail.ru. The acquisition-hungry company also recently became the largest shareholder in India's Flipkart by investing $90m in the business.

The Souq.com transaction strengthens Naspers's footprint in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where current investments include a stake in online classifieds and community portal Dubizzle.com. Souq.com claims to be the largest e-commerce site in the Arab world with over eight million visits per month. Headquartered in Dubai, Souq.com also has offices in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait.

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