How does one create a permanent investment vehicle? The question perplexes modern tech and private equity tycoons. Half a millennium ago it was solved by Jakob Fugger, the German merchant and financier. His wealth still benefits descendants and recipients of his charity.

His modern peers must resort to a form of charity too, by returning capital to needy shareholders. Rocket Internet, the Berlin-based tech incubator and investment vehicle led by Oliver Samwer, announced another buyback round with its half-year earnings on Thursday.

The €150m repurchase adds to convertible debt and equity buybacks of about half a billion euros in the past year. That compares uncomfortably with Rocket’s holdings of cash and equivalents of €2.5bn.

The business also has post-IPO stakes in the online meals businesses Delivery Hero and Hello Fresh valued at €1.2bn. Equity in smaller quoted companies is worth about €500m. That total exceeds Rocket’s market value of €4.1bn, attributing negative value to the company’s substantial portfolio of unquoted stocks.

This weird phenomenon is not unusual. Naspers, a South-African media business is worth less than its holding in Chinese internet giant Tencent. In August, Lex estimated shares in Japanese investor SoftBank were discounted by at least a quarter, compared with the value of its stakes.

Permanent capital gives managers the ability to invest patiently, without having to worry about fund redemption deadlines. This may be good for investment results. But shareholders — just like investors in funds — can become impatient when cash is sitting idle. They are right. The point of putting money into an investment vehicle is to see it put to work.

Rocket started its career by cloning US online business models via start-ups of its own. That proved controversial. But as Rocket morphs into a more conventional tech holding group, scepticism rather than anger seems to be the response.

Lex recommends the FT’s Due Diligence newsletter, a curated briefing on the world of mergers and acquisitions. Sign up at ft.com/newsletters.

Get alerts on Rocket Internet AG when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article