After 20 years of transformations, the Central and Eastern Europe region offers attractive investment opportunities for private equity investors.
Poland is an undisputed leader of the CEE region, with growth of more than 4% in PE deals in 2012, which often convinces private equity investors that the investment risk may be lower in Poland than in other European Union countries. The euro-zone financial crisis and regulatory instability on both sides of the Atlantic substantively affected the European private equity industry. Against this framework, the CEE private equity market offered growth to some high performers last year, and Poland, as a CEE tiger, is an example worth expanding on.
The largest economy in the region, Poland has been a "green island" of private equity opportunities during the past few years. With a population of 39 million against 180 million inhabitants (with Ukraine included) in the CEE, and with an EU legal system, it is the only EU country that avoided a financial crisis and maintained gross domestic product growth of more than 4%.
Ernst & Young in its 2011 annual survey placed Poland at the very top as the most attractive investment destination in Europe. Indeed, the 2011 World Investment Report ranked Poland as the sixth most attractive investment market in the world, ahead of Germany and the U.K. This June, Poland is a co-organizer of the European soccer championship, an event that will certainly improve this enviable reputation.
In 2011, the Warsaw Stock Exchange was the European leader for initial public offerings, with 203 debuts amounting to more than 47% of Europe's new listings in the year and ranked No. 3 among European stock exchanges by the value of IPOs in 2011. Poland also has one of the largest deposits of shale gas in Europe.
A recent study titled "European Private Equity Outlook 2012" prepared by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants GmbH classifies Poland as a separate market against other CEE countries. According to the research, private equity investors' geographic focus in 2012 showed Poland as a top performer, with more than 7% of total investment in the entirety of Europe in 2012, as compared with 6% for all other CEE countries. The U.K. share is 4%, France has 5%, and Greece only 1%.
Poland attracted more than $1.5 billion of private equity investment in 2011, followed by the Czech Republic and Hungary at approximately $380 million each and Romania and Ukraine with some $65 million each. In 2010, Poland attracted approximately $850 million, more than half of the total invested by private equity in CEE.
EmiTel Sp. z o.o., a Krakow-based radio and communications provider acquired by Montagu Private Equity LLP from Telekomunikacja Polska SA for more than $550 million, was Poland's largest private equity deal in 2011. The deal constituted an impressive multiple of 11.2 times EmiTel's 2010 Ebitda.
Moreover, Poland's largest insurer, PZU SA, with a market capitalization of $9 billion, together with private equity groups, is planning to establish a $4.13 billion fund to finance overseas takeovers. The fund will make investments in European insurers and potentially will invite the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development or the World Bank's International Financial Corp. as a limited partner.
So what's next for Poland?
Many investors in Poland are clearly seeing more company owners prepared to discuss a sale or a growth capital investment, especially those families who established businesses in the early '90s. Those CEE countries that are part of the EU but have kept their local currency, such as Poland, as well as Romania and the Czech Republic, are the most likely to show much higher private equity opportunities in coming years.
With Poland's accession to the EU in 2004, the investment market progressed significantly and is now much closer to its Western neighbors in terms of stable corporate environments, the EU legal system, advanced capital markets and company regulations and transparency. At the same time, Poland retains the characteristics of an emerging-markets investment opportunity that can deliver direct access to other Eastern European economies such as Ukraine, Russia and countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. This mix makes Poland a very attractive destination for many global private equity players that foresee their CEE businesses operating from Warsaw.
Artur Kluz is an attorney, founder of the Hephaistone Group and a partner at Metropolitan Capital Solutions.