UPDATE 2-New Zealand pioneer Jennings retreats from Russia

Thu Nov 15, 2012 12:18am IST

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* Stephen Jennings pulls out of RenCap after 17 years

* Billionaire tycoon Prokhorov takes over

* Jennings to focus on Africa, asset management units

By Megan Davies and Douglas Busvine

MOSCOW, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Stephen Jennings, a New Zealander who became one of post-Soviet Russia's financial titans, is selling out of his Renaissance Capital to billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and leaving Russian investment banking to focus on frontier markets like Africa.

It is the end of an era for Jennings, who came to Moscow aged 32 with Credit Suisse First Boston in 1992. He went on to found Renaissance in 1995, making his name and fortune as a risk taker and dealmaker who rebuilt twice after market crashes.

The tall ex-rugby player had lately been spending less time in Moscow as he builds up Renaissance's businesses in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

Under the deal announced on Wednesday he will continue to run most of what remains of Renaissance Group after the split from the investment bank: an asset management operation, African land development projects, an African consumer finance business and Russian real estate funds.

Billionaire-turned-politician Prokhorov's Onexim Group will buy the half of Renaissance Capital it doesn't already own and take over Russian-based consumer lender Renaissance Credit for an undisclosed sum, the two sides said.

Prokhorov, who ran on a liberal platform and lost to Vladimir Putin in this year's Russian presidential election, has a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at $13 billion, including a stake in aluminium giant RUSAL, gold miner Polyus Gold and the U.S. Brooklyn Nets basketball team.

FRONTIER MARKETS

Jennings moved to Moscow with Credit Suisse in 1992 to advise on the mass privatisations that launched Russia on a rugged path from central planning to a market economy and earned staggering riches for a handful of well-connected insiders.

He masterminded the first privatisation of a post-Communist Russian company - the Bolshevik Biscuit Factory, before founding Renaissance with Russian-American businessman Boris Jordan.

The business was laid low by the 1998 crash and Russia's default on sovereign debt, but Jennings stayed on to rebuild it in the 2000s after his partners quit. He added asset management and consumer banking businesses and expanded into Africa.

He turned down offers from Russian banks, including one from state-controlled VTB to buy out Renaissance Capital at the top of the market for a reported $4 billion.

The Sept. 2008 crash forced him to accept a far lower valuation to keep RenCap afloat as he sold a one-half stake in the investment bank to Prokhorov for $500 million.

Jennings worked overtime on the trading floor at the peak of the market turmoil in an attempt to deal his way out of trouble. He was forced to make severe staff cuts, later describing the process as like "surgery without anaesthetic".

"The investment banking industry globally is hugely oversized, it has been a massive bubble," Jennings told Reuters in June. "It probably was one of the best industries to be in and now is one of the worst."

Renaissance Capital ranks eighth in Russia for M&A advisory so far this year, according to Thomson Reuters data from Friday, advising on $32 billion in deals. It has had to cut some staff already this year. Recent projects include advising <BP BP.L> on sale of its stake in TNK-BP to Rosneft.

John Hyman, Deputy CEO of Renaissance Capital, will take over the helm of the investment bank from Jennings, who could not be reached for comment.

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