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Africa – Land of the Rising Sun

Despite turmoil in the developed world, Africa has posted economic ground of 5% per annum over the past 5 years, a figure forecast by IMF to increase to 5.5% this year and 6% for 2014.  It seems that the Eurozone crisis or Fed Reserve change in monetary policies are unlikely to affect the African continent at all.

For instance, in the continent’s most populous nation at 170 million people, Nigeria, consumer consumption has been on the rise and now accounts for 20% of GDP.  The Nigerian government has announced plans to build 4 airport terminals costing US$500 million and plans are afoot to build a gargantuan 20,000 MW electricity supply grid costing US$20 billion.

To finance the aggressive expansion plans, Nigeria returned to the international bond market for the first time in 2 years admidst the sell off in equity markets roiled by Bernanke’s comments on a possible tapering in QE on 22nd May 2013.  It offered $1 billion Eurobonds - $500 million of 5-year notes yielding 5.375% and $500 million of 10-year notes yielding 6.625%.  Both were arranged by Citigroup and Deutsche Bank AG.

What surprised most investors (not me though) was that the bonds were very well subscribed up to 4x!  In addition, the respective yields were even lower than the first offering – for instance, the 10-year tranche sold at a higher 6.75% when Nigeria came to the markets in 2011.

Despite elections coming up in 2015, Nigeria has slowly but surely put in place a Eurobond yield curve with the new issuances, with outstanding issues now due in 2018, 2921 and 2023.  This will go a long way to buffer the volatile revenue stream from its oil production which now stands at 2.53 million barrels per day.

The other notable case is Ethiopia, the second largest populous country – it averaged GDP growth of 10.6% per annum in the 7 years to 2011, but its conservative government has chosen to eschew the neoliberal western orthodoxies adopted by other African countries like South Africa and Nigeria in favour of a more tightly controlled development model.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia GDP has grown to a respectable US$33 billion and is slowly but surely moving to unlock some sectors of the economy for foreign investments in a bid to reduce its US$8 billion trade deficit.

It has embarked on an ambitious 5-year public works program that will spend 15% of its GDP on infrastructure projects like roads, roadway and dams.  It will also open up its telecom and retail sectors for foreign investments.  Major retailers like South Africa’s Shoprite, privately-owned Makro and Walmart-linked Game, are certainly eyeing such opportunities.

In Ivory Coast, the government seeks to lure back investments after months of post-election crisis in 2011 which gave rise to violence that killed about 3,000.  That spooked investors and forced the country to miss payments on its international debt.

That landscape has changed rapidly – Ivory Coast’s GDP is expected to grow a strong 9% this year and the government will spend as much as US$10 billion in the next 6 years to expand its port at Abidjan, build a railroad between the western town of Man and San Pedro, Ivory Coast’s 2nd largest port.  In addition, US$500 million will be spend on the construction of a 275MW hydroelectric power plant in Soubre.  These infrastructure spending are expected to fuel economic growth in the next 5 years as stable business conditions seep in and the growing consumer class emerges.

Another African rising sun is the world’s 2nd-largest cocoa producer Ghana and I am certainly looking forward to the country’s first issuance of longer maturity bonds – it plans to offer 200 million cedis (US$97 million) in 2 tranches of 7-year bonds next month and again in November.  Foreign investors like me would be able to participate.

Ghana is West Africa’s 2nd largest economy and GDP growth is expected to hit 8% this year.  Already I own some 3-year and 5-year Ghana bonds which are traded OTC by local banks and big regional banks like Standard Bank and First African Bank.  The bonds are also listed on the Ghana Stock Exchange for easier monitoring.

A common capital distortion in EM or Frontier markets is the huge disparity in risk premiums for long and short-term debts.  For instance, in Ghana, you can buy and 3-Month Treasury bills yielding more than 20% pa (yes, you would double your capital in 4 years).  Of course, for foreign investors like me, the foreign currency risk is something I watch closely – in Ghana, the cedi has depreciated by about 7% against the US$ to about 2.05, but the risk-return is definitely still on risk-on gear as the country seeks to narrow its budget deficit which currently stands at 4% to GDP.

Who says that there is no money to be made in volatile Africa?  Other than sun-soaked beaches in Pretoria and Freetown, a shrewd investor, understanding his/her risk appetite and time horizon, can still make hay in the land of the rising sun.

Gabriel Yap
Gabriel Yap

Mr Gabriel Yap,CFA was an eminent stockbroker who retired from stockbroking in 2009 to devote himself to philanthropy to help the needy, poor and handicap globally. He has donated and assisted Charities Aid Foundation, Australia (CAF), a not-for-profit donor funds management business. CAF has granted over A$100 million in the past decade to needy organisations to undertake aid and charity work across the world.

Mr Yap is also Executive Chairman of GCP Global Pte Ltd, an investment firm that invest in both direct capital markets, bonds, real estate, commodities, foreign exchange and builds businesses. Mr Yap appears regularly for the TV media like Channel News Asia and Bloomberg and radio channels like FM93.8 for their various investment programs.

Previously Mr Yap has also lectured at renowned government institutions like the SEASEN Course for the Monetary Authority of Singapore and at Asian Development Bank. Mr Yap has also lectured at financial institutions like the Stock Exchange of Singapore, Institute of Banking and Finance, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Singapore Institute of Management and the Securities Investors Association of Singapore.

In 2010, the venerable Reader’s Digest magazine created the Money Savvy column in their magazine, helmed by Mr Yap who writes on all things finance and answers questions from the magazine’s subscribers.

Mr Yap presently splits his time between Melbourne, Hong Kong/China and Singapore.