On the heels of rumors in April that Zawya was preparing for a multimillion dollar acquisition, majority shareholder Saffar Capital has confirmed today that the site is being acquired by Thomson Reuters.
Previously, three other companies- intelligence service Mergermarket (part of FT Group), media company Emap (partly owned by The Guardian), and Indian credit-ratings agency Crisil, were in the running. Today, sources suggest that Thomson Reuters will acquire Zawya in a deal rumored to approach $40 million, Arabian Business reports. This number has been circulating but is not confirmed.
In a comment to Wamda, Saffar Capital CEO Michael Hewitt said, "We're quite pleased with the acquisition. When we invested in Zawya, it was a very small company, and investing in an internet-based model after the burst of the dot-com bubble, in the Middle East, right after 9/11, was a bold move. Yet it demonstrated our foresight. Zawya provides clarity and transparency in a region that's known for being opaque. We transformed the business model to become a subscription-based business model, and the business grew quite rapidly, along with and in parallel to the growth of the Middle East region."
"To have worked with the founders of the company to develop the company to what it is today, where it's acquired by the likes of Thomson Reuters, is a big success for this region and for private equity investment in this region," he added.
Hewitt confirmed that Saffar Capital, which acquired a 60% stake in Zawya in 2001, is divesting its entire stake in the company. "It's up to the new owners to determine how to take the company forward, but Zawya has always been an innovative company for this region, and I would think that culture would continue."
Saffar could not comment on the amount, but Hewitt noted that the sale came at a far more opportune moment than the previous potential sale in 2008, which was being negotiated when the financial crisis hit. Now, he reiterates, "We've been able to create significant returns for our shareholders."
Sources say that Saffar may receive between US $5 and $6 per share for their stake of Zawya's 7 million shares, for a total value of $21 and $25 million. The company has appointed U.K.-based corporate finance advisory company Arma Partners to advise on the sale.
Yet the rumored valuation of $40 million may be low; in 2008, the site was almost sold for close to $12 a share, at a valuation of $80 million.
Zawya, a leading portal for business news and analysis in the Middle East, was founded in Dubai in 2000 by Ihsan Jawad, Zaid Jawad, and Husain Makiya, who left to start venture capital firm HBT Ventures (Honeybee Tech Ventures) in late 2010. In April, the National reported that Zawya now has 5,000 paying subscribers and around 750,000 monthly unique visitors, and employs 200 staff in the UAE and Lebanon. Current CEO Gunnar Skoog pledged that the site will have "double-digit growth" this year, and also revealed that the site would have a new CEO within 6 weeks. That change has not yet been announced.
For Thomson Reuters, which is expanding in the Middle East and North Africa, the acquisition may offer a chance to incorporate a wealth of business news and analysis under a well-known brand, that, at $6,000 for a full yearly membership, costs less per year than either Reuters or Bloomberg, says Arabian Business.