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3i buys Brazil eyewear group Óticas Carol

14 March 2013

(Financial Times3i Group has made its second investment in Brazil, acquiring Óticas Carol, the country’s second-largest eyewear retail chain by sales.

The R$108m (£36.7m) deal is part of an expansion by the UK-based private equity group in Latin America’s largest economy that stands in contrast to its restructuring efforts in its traditional markets.

Marcelo Di Lorenzo, head of 3i Brazil, said that the acquisition, along with the group’s previous purchase of a stake in Blue Interactive Group, a cable television and broadband provider, fitted with its strategy of targeting the strongest segment of the country’s economy, the consumer business.

“These are very stable non-cyclical businesses which fit well the consumer need and consumer pocket without the need of leveraging,” he said.

The deal comes amid a sharp rise in investments by private equity firms in Brazil as they put record fundraisings during 2010 and 2011 to work.

Private equity and venture capital groups in Latin America invested $7.9bn in a range of deals last year, up 21 per cent compared with a year earlier and the highest in five years.

Recent deals include the investment by GP Investimentos, one of Brazil’s biggest private equity managers, of R$503m to buy about 2,000 mobile telephone towers to create a new company, known as BR Towers.

Last month, international group General Atlantic finalised the investment of R$356m for a minority stake in XP Investimentos, an independent brokerage whose shareholders include Actis, another global private equity firm.

3i’s Mr Di Lorenzo said that the investment in Óticas Carol was being undertaken alongside international institutional investors Neuberger Berman and Siguler Guff but he did not disclose their respective stakes.

Óticas Carol has 490 franchisees across 19 states and 235 cities. The group already has signed up 90 new franchisees this year and this was expected to reach 200 by the end of the year.

Sales at Óticas Carol have been growing 40 per cent a year compared with a 15 per cent compound annual growth rate in Brazil’s eyewear market between 2006 and 2012.

The growth is being driven by demographic changes, with a growing number of Brazilians entering the 25-year-old to 40-plus age range who tend to require more prescription glasses, as well as a rise in fashion awareness and, more broadly, rising income.

“You have a very strong demographic tailwind, on top of that I think sunglasses in Brazil are becoming a fashion statement, so you have more than one and you are looking for the international brands,” said Mr Di Lorenzo.