* Net asset value per share up 42 pct
* Says flagship property project on track
* Carrefour franchise to be main tenant (Adds dividend policy and investment opportunities comments by CEO, analyst comment, shares, NAV)
By Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI, June 10 Kenya's Centum Investment will withhold dividends for another five years, instead using its earnings to invest in real estate and consumer goods projects in the region, the firm said on Tuesday.
The investment company, which posted a 24 percent rise in pretax profit in the year to March, said healthcare, education and financial services offered good opportunities in east African economies.
"These are really the sectors that are fulfilling basic needs and delivering basic services," said Centum Chief Executive James Mworia, adding that an unspecified number of deals will be closed soon.
Tapping these opportunities could keep Centum's net asset value per share rising at an annualised 35 percent over the next five years, up from 31 percent in the previous five-year period, he said.
Centum's returns expressed in net asset value per share, outperformed Nairobi's benchmark share index by an average 19 percent in the past five years.
Shares fell 2.5 percent to 39.25 Kenyan shillings ($0.45) after the results.
"Some people might have expected a resumption of the dividend which didn't happen, but overall it was a good performance," said Eric Musau, an analyst at Standard Investment Bank.
Centum adopted the zero-dividend policy five years ago.
"This is a policy that has the support of our shareholders and they have made a decision to carry on with the same policy for the next five years," Mworia said.
Pretax profit for the 12 months rose to 4.01 billion shillings, with the net asset value per share climbing 42 percent to 34.47 shillings.
Centum's profit was boosted by the sale of a 42-percent stake in its Two Rivers property development in Nairobi to an unnamed private equity firm for $75 million, valuing the project at 9 billion shillings.
The company said it will hand over space in the Two Rivers shopping mall to an anchor tenant, the Carrefour franchise , in March.
The arrival of Europe's largest retailer will offer a boost to Kenya, where security worries still prevail almost nine months after confidence was shaken by the attack on Westgate mall, which had been one of the capital's smartest shopping centres.
"The insecurity in the country is obviously affecting business. It is affecting people's livelihoods but we are also very optimistic people," Mworia said. "It is not dampening our spirits or affecting our investment decisions."
Westgate, which was badly damaged, is still closed since the assault by gunmen that left 67 people dead. A fresh spate of bombings in Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa in recent weeks has added to nervousness. ($1 = 87.4500 Kenyan Shillings) (Editing by Edmund Blair and Louise Heavens)