Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
Africa is turning into a fashionable post-crisis investment destination as investors regain their confidence and start to focus on the continent’s lack of direct involvement with the global market’s volatility drivers and trouble hotspots. Africa is benefiting not only from a resumption of international debt and equity flows; it is also a beneficiary of international efforts to maintain the flow of trade finance via multilateral guarantee programmes – 45 issuing banks from 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have joined the IFC’s trade finance programme, for example.
At the same time, bilateral and multilateral development agencies are actively investing via an assortment of public and private-sector channels; the international capital markets pipeline is building – sovereign debt offerings on the docket for Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Zambia with Libya believed to be looking – while the slew of private equity and hedge funds being raised this year for Africa are seeing healthy interest from public-sector and private LPs.
Investors are focusing broadly on Africa’s relative political stability, improving governance, more conducive policy and regulatory environment, as well as more transparent foreign investment regimes. At the macroeconomic level, above-average growth and low levels of government and corporate indebtedness add to the appeal. What’s key to much of the capital flowing into Africa is that it is supplemented by a support network of capacity building, advisory services, training, technology transfer, and infrastructure benefits.
From a sector diversification perspective, the emergence of new technologies such as mobile telephony and Internet broadband are creating interest beyond the traditional natural resource plays; the telecoms and services sector was the dominant Africa FDI recipient in 2009.
Mining companies are looking more cautiously at South Africa after a brouhaha over shady deals. Media and diplomats are nervous of measures they fear could curtail press freedom. South Africans in general are wondering how much damage an ongoing public sector strike will do and whether it is a sign of worse labour unrest to come.
But global banking giant HSBC certainly seems to be taking a positive long term view of Africa’s biggest economy with its talks to buy up to 70 percent of South Africa’s Nedbank in a deal that could be worth more than $8 billion.
“Europe possibly needs an Afribond,” commented one contributor this week on the Thomson Reuters chatroom for fixed income markets in Kenya.
A nice quip from Henry Kirimania of The Cooperative Bank of Kenya and a reminder of just how much better placed Africa is now in terms of its debt burden than it once was and particularly in relation to what might now be regarded as the world’s Heavily Indebted Formerly Rich Countries.
A few days back, I had the pleasure to moderate a lively debate on investment prospects in Africa involving private sector panellists and representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
The tone was upbeat, but discussion turned heated when it came to debt restructuring in Ivory Coast.
While it might sound obscure (and I won’t go into all the details) it raised broader questions about the role of the international financial institutions in Africa and how that may be reinforced by the global financial crisis.
The concern of some in the private sector was that foreign investors with exposure to local debt in Ivory Coast looked set to suffer the same restructuring terms that holders of foreign debt would have to bear – with the approval of the IMF. Their argument was that this would discourage foreign investors from buying local bonds in Africa.
The IMF came back robustly, saying it was only playing by the rules in Ivory Coast and suggesting that investors make closer checks before putting in their money.
But private sector participants were unclear where this might leave them in future, particularly at a time many African states are eyeing bond markets again.
Some voiced broader concern over how the international financial institutions see the private sector’s role.
Before the credit crisis, a number of African countries had begun turning to international capital markets. But Eurobond plans were put on hold when global markets seized up and the institutions stepped back in to provide emergency help to hard-hit countries. Amounts have been substantial even compared to the $10 billion in concessional financing promised by China over three years. The IMF board approved a $1.4 billion standby loan arrangement for Angola this week.
The question now is how this may change the longer term balance in sources of finance for African states.
Is the private sector overly wary of institutions that are simply doing their best to give emergency help now and fend off future debt crises? Or are those institutions muscling back in to impose their dominance in telling African states how they should go about managing their debts and getting the finance they need? How will Chinese money affect the balance?
Pictures: A money dealer counts the Nigerian naira on a machine in his office in the commercial capital of Lagos, January 13, 2009. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye; Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director, International Monetary Fund (IMF), is introduced at the International Economic Forum of the Americas conference in Montreal, June 8, 2009. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi