3i back on growth path after 3-year slump

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The Independent Online

3I Group, Europe's largest listed private equity firm, last year saw its first rise in net asset value since 2000 as the market recovered from a slump.

3i Group, Europe's largest listed private equity firm, last year saw its first rise in net asset value since 2000 as the market recovered from a slump.

The company said that conditions in the new financial year, which began in April, were even better. Reporting results for the year ended 31 March, Brian Larcombe, the chief executive, said: "The previous two years were difficult but we are pretty upbeat about these results and the outlook." Mr Larcombe, who will retire at the end of July, said the turnaround came from a combination of the action taken by 3i and the improvement in general conditions.

"3i has withstood some of the most volatile market conditions that I have seen in my 30 years in the industry and has come through strongly," he said. "The general macroeconomic drivers look more favourable, the business model is delivering in each of our three key areas of activity: buyouts, growth capital and venture capital."

The company invested a total of £923m in the 2003-4 financial year, with most of this coming in the second half. Realisation proceeds, following 3i's exit from investments, totalled £923m for the period, with equity assets sold at a 58 per cent premium to their value at the start of the year - that was sharply up on the 34 per cent premium achieved the previous year.

The return for the year was £531m, an 18 per cent gain, with the "growth capital" and buyout divisions performing strongly and "private equity", which is focused on technology, steadied after a couple of very poor years.

Net asset value per share was 553p, up from 480p the previous year. It was the first year since the 847p NAV a share reported in 2000 that this figure had grown.

3i said it had seen "encouraging levels of renewed interest by trade buyers for strategic assets and the IPO (initial public offering) markets are showing signs of re-opening".

The company has not announced a successor to Mr Larcombe but three internal candidates are seen as strong contenders: Michael Queen, the finance director; Chris Rowlands, who runs the growth business; and Jonathan Russell, head of the buyout division.

Speaking on a conference call, Mr Queen dismissed a press report that said 3i could be the target of a takeover approach from a consortium including Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston and the private equity giants KKR and The Blackstone Group. "We've received no approaches," Mr Queen said.

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