MTN said to prepare share sale of African unicorn Jumia

African online retailer Jumia is planning an initial public offering in New York this year that could value the business at about $1.5bn, according to people familiar with the matter.

Jumia’s largest shareholder MTN Group is planning to raise as much as $600m from selling its shares through the IPO, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified as the information isn’t public.

MTN and Jumia declined to comment. MTN had been weighing a listing or private sale of its shares in Jumia, people familiar with the matter said last August.

A US IPO would catapult Lagos, Nigeria-based Jumia into the global spotlight after seven years of rapid growth across Africa, where it provides an Amazon.com-like service and has platforms in 13 countries. Jumia is a rare so-called unicorn in Africa - a private company valued at more than $1bn - being one of only three, according to research firm CB Insights.

The company was set up by French entrepreneurs Sacha Poignonnec and Jeremy Hodara in 2012 to take advantage of rising internet use in the world’s least connected continent, as well as a lack of availability of items such as designer watches and sunglasses in Lagos stores.

Internet access

Jumia will tell potential investors that two-thirds of Africa’s 1.2bn people still don’t have access to the internet, providing plenty of potential for sales growth and profitability, said one of the people. Internet giants such as Alphabet's Google and Facebook are among those striving to extend connectivity to the more remote and poorer parts of the continent.  

MTN could be selling Jumia in New York at about the same time as an IPO of its Nigeria unit in Lagos, a move the carrier agreed to as part of a $1bn regulatory fine in 2016. The latter will be done in two stages, with an introductory listing in the first half of this year followed by a sell down of its majority stake, Chief Executive Rob Shuter said on a recent call with investors.

A successful listing of both Jumia and the Nigeria unit could help MTN reduce debt, which increased to R69.8bn in June from R57.1bn at the end of 2017. The rising liabilities and a dispute over non-payment of back taxes in Nigeria is weighing on the company’s share price, which has fallen by almost a third in the last 12 months.

The stock traded 0.8% lower at R85 by the close in Johannesburg on Friday, valuing the company at R160bn ($11.8bn).

Other Jumia shareholders include Goldman Sachs Group, Millicom International Cellular SA, Orange SA and Africa Internet Group, a venture backed by Goldman, MTN and Rocket Internet SE.