Founded in 1994 by Jalila Mezni, Société d’Articles Hygiéniques (SAH) is one of the fastest-growing groups in the Tunisian economy. SAH started with feminine hygiene production under its own brand Lilas. As the group began to grow rapidly, it has expanded its production to include baby diapers, tissues and diapers for adult incontinence. In 2008 the company opened its capital to a private equity fund to back its development plan both inside and outside Tunisia, and ECP Africa NACG bought a 49% stake in the company. This capital raising enabled Lilas to go international and set up factories in neighbouring countries such as Libya, Algeria and Morocco.
Lilas was thus on track to becoming part of a group of six companies with a foot in fast-growing markets. More than 30% of the group’s sales stem from export markets.
In 2014 the group was listed on the Tunisian Stock Exchange (TSE) through the exit of the private equity fund and a capital increase reserved for its reference shareholder, “Mrs. Jalila Mezni”. Listed at a capitalisation worth TD285m (€130.7m), SAH-Lilas shares are among the best performers in the market, if newly listed stocks are taken into account. The firm saw the highest growth on the TSE, gaining 5.9%, or TD11.87 (€5.44). In the same year it listed, Lilas saw a consolidated turnover of TD212.57m (€97.5m) and a growth rate of between 8% and 10%. As a result, Lilas’s CEO, Mezni, is the 11th-wealthiest business owner in Tunisia.
Since its listing, the company’s share price has gone up 70%. Investors like the defensive sectors in which Lilas operates and depends upon for further expansion in the region. Foreign institutional investors have also helped the good performance of the company’s stock following the announcement in April 2015 of a tie-up with another private equity investor. The rationale behind the entry of a private equity fund is obviously to help the group expand into Africa. The deal is still not completed, but discussions should be concluded shortly.
Lilas’ free float was initially about 20%. Overtime, this has risen to 33%, most of which is held by foreign portfolio investors estimated at 21%. Foreign buying has not weakened since the company’s listing although valuation has become a little bit stretched at a 2015 price-to-earnings ratio of 20.7x against an international average of 20.2x. The stock trades at a premium compared to the international average which is based on expectations of growth in the future.
The company currently employs 2000 workers, including 1700 in Tunisia. Lilas also has a subsidiary, Azur, in Zriba, which is located south of Tunis. Azur provides a steady supply of cellulose wadding, and along with a production unit in Majaz Al Bab in north-west Tunisia, ensures the company controls its entire production chain. Beyond North Africa, the firm exports to Gabon, Congo, Mali, Mauritania and Egypt, with sales from exports accounting for 25.6% of turnover in 2014.
According to estimates for 2015, total group sales should grow by 12% to TD324m (€148.6m) in consolidated terms and by 16% to TD20.5m (€9.4m) in terms of net profits, minus minority shareholders. For the longer term Lilas has a clear vision: consolidating its local position by buying new equipment and technology; raising exposure in neighbouring markets, including Libya, Morocco and Algeria; and penetrating new markets in sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in West Africa where Lilas plans to set up a subsidiary in Côte d’Ivoire. Regarding its development strategy, Lilas has opted for a more capitalistic strategy where the group spends more money on new projects and reaching a critical mass that enables the firm to compete with bigger players in the region.
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