Mary Bomela is CEO of the Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC).
SUMMIT TV: The MIC defied tough conditions in the 12 months to February to record a 22% rise in net asset value of its portfolio to R2,8bn. Given the tough economic conditions, what were your expectations?
MARY BOMELA: It was in line with our expectations - in terms of the plans our investee companies had, most were right on target. Obviously some did better than expected and others didn't do as well as expected, but overall everyone tried hard and did quite well.
STV: What's your outlook for the next year?
MB: We are quite conservative so we don't put pressure on the companies - they put plans together that the boards and shareholders have been through, and we are comfortable with that. It would vary by company. We hope at least to return the same performance for the next year, but we wouldn't be bullish knowing the current economic conditions. The plans for most of our investee companies include expansion into African countries in the immediate future.
STV: What sectors would you be keen on?
MB: Not directly, but through the investee companies we see most looking up north so there's Metrofile and FirstRand and others - right across the board the opportunities are in Africa more than in South Africa.
STV: What about the opportunities here in South Africa? Surely something is coming up?
MB: The MIC's our focus is largely still here - we see a lot of opportunities. Some say conditions are tough but as an investor, if you have a bit of cash to spend, that's the ideal time to make investments with good value that are not overpriced. There are sectors we are looking at, and we are looking at the secondary black economic empowerment (BEE) market where we may be able to invest.
STV: You mentioned some companies did pretty well and others not so. Who were the star performers and what's the strategy?
MB: In the star performers we'd start with FirstRand where the share price did well, and with the instrument we used we've paid down quite a bit of debt simply because of the dividends we received. There's Metrofile and then there's the industrial company Set Point.
STV: Can you use this strategy with the other companies you have?
MB: There are other business models and different management styles and industries - with Metrofile that's an annuities-based business where one has to store records, and so the law requires that so the market is there. What management has been good at is finding new markets and customers and growing the top line without growing expenses, so profitability has been great from that perspective.
They also managed to pay down some debt and it's good, conservative management, which is why they did so well. How does one replicate that into other companies? That might be a bit difficult where you don't see annuity-based income. We also have an investment in Tracker. It has a similar business model and we see it doing well even at times when the economy is down. We find annuity-based businesses attractive because they are defensive and ride through the curve when things are down.
STV: You highlighted that hospitality and leisure are down - sectors where you have investments. What's your strategy for the challenges there?
MB: As much as they have not been star performers, they have done well compared with their peers. We are happy with them and we have strategies in place to see how we can get into new markets. In South Africa there are limited gaming licences so we may look at expansion beyond South Africa's borders and different models that may be management agreements rather than pure gaming assets.
STV: You spoke about BEE where the landscape has changed. What opportunities do you expect?
MB: I can't mention specifics at the moment but BEE has been around for 18 years or so, and many of the deals done in the beginning had lock-in periods where those initial investors had not seen much liquidity. What we are saying is we would be able to buy them out and provide the cash they require without affecting the empowerment status of those organisations.