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Shaken Global Financial Markets Prompt Look at African Economies

  • Nico Colombant

Economists say more outside investment is needed to boost Africa's recent economic growth

Economists say more outside investment is needed to boost Africa's recent economic growth

As shaken stock markets, slumping national economies and dented credit ratings create economic fears around the world, many international investors say now is a good time to take a closer look at an often forgotten continent, Africa.

Anthony Carroll, a U.S.-based trade and investment consultant who has worked more than three decades in Africa, says now is a good time as any for individual and corporate investors to place money in Africa.

Carroll points to major banks saying the same thing.

"Africa is growing at a pace that it has not seen since really the post-independence period," said Carroll. "Annual GDP [gross domestic product] rates are well above five percent. [Global investment bank] Goldman Sachs predicts that eight of the top 11 growing economies in the next 10 years are going to be in Africa. The World Bank reported that about 4.7 [percent] of global investment now goes into Africa, which is up sharply from less than one percent in 2000."

The African Development Bank predicts a 6.5 percent average growth rate on the continent next year, despite the recent global market downturn.

Accounting firms are also giving Africa high marks. A report recently released by U.S.-based Ernst & Young predicts that foreign direct investment in Africa could reach $150 billion by 2015, compared to only $84 billion last year.

Ugandan-born Larry Seruma is the chief investment officer for Nile Capital Management in New York. His company has created for individual American investors the Nile Pan Africa Fund, which is focused on African companies.

Seruma says that although the major global financial markets closely follow each other, including on significant downward trends, the more than 50 national economies in Africa have much less of what he calls "correlation," which, he explains, is a good thing.

"It has the potential to provide a high return with a lower volatility," said Seruma. "That is the opportunity that is very unique for Africa. The diversity of Africa makes it possible that a portfolio investment in Africa has a lower volatility or a lower risk profile compared to say a portfolio stock in Latin America or in Europe or in the United States."

Noah Greenhill, a senior general manager at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, says that during the 2008 economic downturn, the impact was extremely limited in South Africa, the continent's leading economy.

"Not once was there even a discussion about a bank closing down, about a bank experiencing a liquidity crisis," said Greenhill. "We were one of the only exchanges in the world, when other exchanges in First World markets that we all respect were considering banning short selling, we did not even consider it. And yet when you look at South Africa, when you look at Africa, guys are going, 'That is small and irrelevant.' And yes we are small, but small does not necessarily mean bad."

Short selling is a practice by which an investor can make a profit by predicting a decline in the price of an asset. It increases volatility, but it is also seen as helping markets by uncovering future problems.

The recent global stock market decline affected Africa's major stock markets. But many economists say that even though some the world's major economies will continue to struggle in the near-term, there is no sign of a slowdown for Africa's economies.

These economies are driven by natural resources, including gold, which is selling at record highs. Africa holds an estimated 40 percent of the world's gold reserves as well as other important commodities such as cobalt, platinum and oil.

African economies are also being driven by a need to expand infrastructure and a growing middle class seeking to purchase more and higher quality consumer goods. Challenges to investment include political instability and security weaknesses in many parts of the continent as well as a lack of market transparence and logistical hurdles.