Africa from New York: A Black Swan, Nigeria & More
If I may borrow a term from The Queen, this has been an annus horribilis for some African countries. It began with oil trading on a precipice about to fall below $30 a barrel, and the news flow has not let up since then. It's been a unique 2016 US election cycle with many unexpected twists. We've also had the small issue of Brexit too. Emerging stock-markets have picked up of late, but how have Africa's key economies been impacted and what might happen next ? Within this blog I look forward to sharing feedback from various interactions over the past few months which may help you to build a more complete picture of the continent.
This has been my tenth year focussed on, and traveling to, the continent from New York. It is a city that provides a unique vantage point of Africa as the world's financial capital. Governments and companies are drawn to major sources of capital. The African diaspora is vast, and thriving. In addition, regular interaction with the United States Government and African embassies provides tremendous insight and access.
How can we help you ? We are a consulting firm (launched in 2016) that provides unique institutional perspective and strategic advice to African stock exchanges, governments, and corporations on their international engagement with institutional investors and partners. We also work closely with international companies and institutional investors to better understand opportunities across Africa's investment and business landscape.
Please EMAIL ME to discuss your Africa strategy or international outreach.
If Hilary wins November's election she is expected to continue where president Barack Obama left off with regards to her engagement with Africa. His term involved numerous visits to the continent, the implementation of Power Africa, the extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the inaugural US - Africa Leaders Summit (2014) which will recur in New York this September during UN General Assembly. On the other hand, some are associating a Trump presidency with a potential Black Swan episode "that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation...". As with the unexpected news of Brexit, short term volatility and longer term uncertainty are not generally the friends of Frontier markets and Africa.
I woke up early on June 24th and, like many, was glued to the television.
This thoughtful article from the Brookings Institute explains how the continent may be impacted by reduced investment, trade, and development aid as the U.K. becomes more inward looking. On the other hand, the Atlantic Council's (another leading think tank) piece quotes the UK's Junior minister for Africa as saying that “we’ll be able to focus more on our bilateral relationships with Africa and with our traditional partners.” As a UK citizen, it would be rude not to share some insight from the Royal Africa Society - Britain's prime Africa organization.
In November 2015 I was fortunate to spend half a day with ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. The softly spoken leader built his legacy by standing down after narrowly losing last year's elections. Following a year of significantly lower oil prices the economy was stumbling. The commodity generates approximately 70% of the country's revenues.
Fast forward a few months...
Nigeria continued to hold out for an apparent economic miracle while openly pursuing economic stimulus via an expansionary budget. The Finance Minister of Nigeria alluded to a poor relationship with the IMF at their very own Spring Meetings.
...while across the hallway the IMF were very clear in their willingness to work with the Nigerians. They pushed for a floating currency to stabilize the economy.
A few weeks on, at an event in New York, the Finance Minister alluded to a potential near-term
Her current plan involved increased fiscal discipline by cutting costs and recouping $Bn's of stolen dollars.
Shortly after, the Nigerian's moved to a "floating" currency and a significant devaluation ensued.
However, it clearly hasn't provided enough impetus to turn institutional investors back on. Many remained frustrated at a forum in London in July, with Central Bank Governor Emifele.
Sentiment remains depressed as further FX restrictions were implemented during this past week. The blackmarket exchange rate fell below $/ 400 Naira for the first time.
However, it remains impossible to ignore Africa's most populous country. For a better sense of the personalities driving the financial system you may want to have a read through a recent copy of the Africa Report.
INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND (IMF)
The head of the World Bank for Africa, Makhtar Diop, reiterated the Queen's thoughts (from 1992) during the spring meetings.
He discussed the monetary reforms and industry diversification that was required to varying degrees across the continent. Leadership will remain crucial and a key component of the continent's success and stability.
With that said, various events and conversations underlined the reality that many institutions ARE in good hands.
I visited London for a week in July, post Brexit. Strong interest across a variety of African countries such as Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Kenya kept the conversation going.
In May, Ghana celebrated it's 59th birthday with an investor forum and party in New York. It was a fun evening.
Governments are highly capable of mobilizing key ministers and industry figures, as well as interest from the diaspora, when presenting opportunities at various forums and events. However, they generally require assistance in targeting the international community.
A few months later the CEO of the Investment Promotion Center was in town. A Belhaven beer was also in order with the Consul General. As a Scotsman living in New York it would be rude not to!
Activity has slowed leading into the expectedly close forthcoming Ghanaian elections. However, positive news continues to flow - Tullow Oil's (Africa's largest operator) TEN field recently delivered its first oil on time and on budget. Additionally, after a few years of macro mis-management, the IMF program appears to be bringing greater monetary and fiscal stability. The country (of 20 million people) remains a go to destination for many corporations exploring opportunities on the continent.
The Botswana Investment Promotion center came to town.
It is difficult for smaller African nations to garner significant international attention from the investment community. The presence of De Beers' top management certainly helped. Diamonds remain an important component of the economy.
Ethiopia held a party at the United Nations Headquarters to celebrate the 25th year since the end of the civil war.
It also preceded the news of their accession to the UN Security council (the UN's most coveted) for a period of two years, underlining their strategic presence amongst African nations. The country of 90 million people has become a hive of activity as the government opens up all non financial services related industries to foreign investment.
As many of you will be aware, over the past few weeks the opposition Democratic Alliance party took control of Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa's business center and capital city, respectively. The election was widely seen as a turning point in popular support for the dominant African National Congress (ANC) with support falling to the lowest level since 1994.
An event at the Council on Foreign Relations a few months ago, by the author's of this publication, provided interesting perspective of South Africa 22 years after Nelson Mandela was elected.
Significant interest remains amongst major global corporations, as discussed at Anheuser-Busch InBev HQ.
DOES IT ALMA MATER ?
On a personal level, I caught up with my friends at the University of Edinburgh at an alumni event in New York during the summer.
I enjoyed discussing their recent partnership with Lagos Business School and work on the continent.
IT DOES ALMA MATER: RWANDA at HARVARD'S AFRICA CONFERENCE
I have always enjoyed participating, meeting fascinating people and educating myself since first attending in 2009.
This year, Rwanda's President Kagame provided the closing keynote speech and numerous selfies!
During an in-depth Q & A he discussed the reasoning behind his run for a third term. A constitutional change will enable him to pursue a possible third term in 2017, a controversial move. With that said, international investors continue to applaud his leadership. They underline the country's sustained macro progress and a stable, progressive business environment which tops the African charts.
Ashish Thakkar, founder of the Mara Group, also drew the crowds.
Enjoy the rest of the summer.
Africa Investment Advisors LLC is a consulting firm (launched in 2016) that provides unique institutional perspective and strategic advice to African Stock Exchanges, Governments, and Corporations on their international engagement with institutional investors and partners. We also work closely with international companies and institutional investors to better understand opportunities across Africa's investment and business landscape.
Ashley Bendell, +16464170785, email@example.com