3i has broken its longest barren spell without agreeing a new buy-out deal by acquiring a majority stake in Vedici, the Paris-based healthcare clinic chain, from its French private equity rival Apax Partners SA.

The deal, valuing Vedici at almost €200m, is the first new buy-out by 3i for 16 months. It shows that the UK’s oldest private equity firm feels it has recovered sufficiently from the financial crisis to return to the dealmaking fray.

3i teamed up with NI Partners, the private equity arm of French bank Natixis, to buy 40 per cent of Vedici held by Apax Partners SA. The consortium will also subscribe to a capital increase by the healthcare company to finance the roll-out of more clinics.

Founded in 2000, Vedici has grown from six to 23 healthcare centres in the past four years. It is now France’s fifth-largest acute care company with 2,650 beds, generating €280m of revenue and about €20m-€25m of operating profit last year.

3i will own about 55 per cent of Vedici, NI Partners will own 10 per cent, and the management led by chief executive Jérôme Nouzarède will own the rest.

The company’s lenders, led by Natixis, are expected to roll over their debts. Close Brothers advised 3i and NI Partners, while Rothschild advised Apax Partners SA.

3i’s record barren spell underlines the scale of turmoil created by the simultaneous arrival of a severe global recession and a crippling financial crisis in late 2008.

The private equity group was forced to change its chief exe cutive, launch a £732m rights issue and embark on a determined debt-reduction programme to cope with the crisis. It also froze new deals, allowing only follow-on investments in its portfolio.

This week 3i lost control of two of the 20 biggest companies in its buy-out portfolio, after lenders seized the equity of Global Garden Products, the Italian lawnmower maker, and Ultralase, the UK laser eye surgery chain.

The buy-out group had already written off both investments last year. It also lost its £79m minority stake in British Seafood, the importer of fish from Asia that went into administration recently. That wiped out the gain from selling Ambea, the Nordic healthcare group, for €800m to Triton, the German buy-out group.

The group’s last European deal was the €187m buy-out of Memora, the Spanish funeral services group, in November 2008.

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