(Corrects location of Namshi in 12th paragraph to Middle East from India)
* No more dilutive capital raising for 36 months
* No big acquisitions for 24 months
* Portfolio value rises 3.4 bln euros since October listing
* Operating margin up average 6 points at top start-ups
* Volatile Rocket shares surge
By Emma Thomasson
BERLIN, Sept 30 (Reuters) - German ecommerce investor Rocket Internet expects three of its top online start-ups to break even by the end of 2017 and pledged not to raise more capital or make big acquisitions for a few years.
Founded by brothers Oliver, Alexander and Marc Samwer in 2007, Rocket has set up dozens of ecommerce sites, aiming to replicate the success of Amazon and Alibaba in new markets in Africa, Latin America and Russia.
But Rocket Internet's shares have slumped 49 percent this year after it appeared to shift focus by splashing out on online food takeaway businesses in developed markets, forcing it to seek more funds in February.
Chief Executive Oliver Samwer sought to reassure investors on Wednesday, saying Rocket had 1.7 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in cash and no plans for dilutive capital raising in the next 36 months, nor for major acquisitions in the next 24 months.
"We are not an M&A company. We are not an investment company. We are building companies. You will see more great companies in the next 10 years," he told a capital markets day webcast from London.
Samwer said three of the top 12 start-ups that Rocket calls its "proven winners" should break even by the end of 2017 and he expected to list at least one in the next 18 months.
The Berlin-based group, Europe's largest Internet company, is viewed as a launch pad for stock market listings by online fashion to food delivery firms although volatile markets mean several mooted flotations have been put on ice.
Rocket Internet shares surged 18 percent to 28.60 euros, though the shares are still well below the 42.50 euro offer price in Rocket's initial public offering (IPO) last October.
"It seems the market doubts Rocket's ability to build profitable businesses. Yet Zalando suggests otherwise. The fact that it is profitable whereas Rocket companies are not is due to maturity," said Berenberg analyst Sarah Simon.
Simon was referring to the now-profitable German online fashion firm that Rocket helped build. She said Rocket's market capitalisation did not factor in any value for its Global Fashion Group of five ecommerce sites, which could have sales in 2017 equal to those of Zalando in 2014.
PROFITS TAKE YEARS
Rocket said its "proven winners" saw average weighted net revenues jump 142 percent to 1.37 billion euros in the first half, accelerating from growth of 82 percent in 2014 as a whole.
The biggest revenue rises came at online general merchandise sites such as Jumia in Africa and Lazada in southeast Asia, followed by fashion sites such as Namshi in the Middle East.
The "proven winners", five online fashion firms, three general merchandise sites, two food delivery firms and two home furnishing sites, saw average operating margins rise 6 percentage points, though all continued to make hefty losses.
Samwer said ecommerce firms usually take six to nine years to break even while online marketplaces take five to seven years, noting that the average age of Rocket's "proven winners" is four years: "Only in Europe do we criticise Internet companies for their early losses."
He said online food ingredients delivery firm HelloFresh has already reached break even in the Netherlands, while fashion site Namshi was also close to profitability: "We focus on high margin ecommerce business."
Rocket Internet said its portfolio value had increased 3.4 billion euros since its listing to 6 billion, in part due to a financing round that lifted the value of HelloFresh, which is considering an IPO but has not given a time frame.
Samwer said Rocket's average shareholding in its "proven winners" was 44 percent but it aimed to increase that to above 50 percent in the medium term.
Since its IPO Rocket has invested 1.5 billion euros: 800 million for a stake in food takeaway service Delivery Hero, 324 million in stakes in HelloFresh and takeaway firm Foodpanda and 200 million in other new firms.
Rocket said it was on track to meet its target of starting 10 new companies this year, with nine already launched. Samwer said he saw particular potential for more sites in classified advertisements, travel and food and groceries.
First-half revenues for Rocket Internet itself rose 5 percent to 71.3 million euros but it slipped to a loss of 45.9 million from a profit of 91.9 million a year ago due to a reduction in consolidation gains from Jumia. ($1 = 0.8913 euros) (Editing by David Clarke)