ABU DHABI- NMC Health
, the United Arab Emirates-based healthcare provider, plans to expand in Europe and the Gulf to retain its recently won place in London's FTSE 100 blue chip index.
Next week NMC is set to become the only Middle Eastern company whose stock is a constituent of the prestigious benchmark, giving it access to a new and more stable investor base as well as exposure to greater shareholder scrutiny.
"The most important thing now is to continue performing and solidify growth that we’ve seen since we began acquiring assets in 2015," NMC chief executive Prasanth Manghat told Reuters
A company needs to ensure that its market capitalisation grows in order to stay in the index, unlike Jordan-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals which entered the FTSE 100 index in 2015 but was subsequently ejected after its share price slid.
Manghat said that NMC, which listed in London in 2012, would strengthen its position with further investment, using $500 million in cash and unused financial facilities.
"We will definitely look at opportunities to consolidate and grow in Europe, the UK and the Gulf," he added.
NMC entered Europe by acquiring one fertility clinic in Spain and one in Italy and now has three in each country. It also has three such clinics in Brazil and one in Colombia.
"It is a very good business where, we believe, not many investments are coming. Corporatisation of the IVF (fertility) business is our aim,” Manghat said.
NMC treated 2.88 million patients in the first half and growth in the Gulf’s healthcare sector is being driven by growing populations becoming more susceptible to lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
While NMC is looking at further growth in the UAE, its main target market is Saudi Arabia where it made a first foray last year by building a new hospital and buying a stake in another.
NMC will invest in long-term care, fertility and general clinics across smaller cities in Saudi Arabia, Manghat said, adding that the firm was also bullish on Oman, where he hopes deals could materialise by the end of the year.
Saudi Arabia's government has said it will welcome foreign investors in its healthcare to relieve a huge budget deficit resulting from low oil prices.
Although uncertainty remains about how Riyadh will regulate investment, Manghat said NMC could cope more easily with the high costs and sophisticated technology needed to run Saudi hospitals than smaller competitors.
(Editing by Andrew Torchia and Alexander Smith