Pension, rising asset and commodity prices suggest Africa Rising again
Institutional investors are some of the main drivers of the development of capital markets and savings are the necessary ingredient for the development of institutional investors.
Africa continues to turn global investors’ heads, despite its challenges. Attracted by its many fast-growing economies and burgeoning consumer and business spending – expected to reach US$6.7 trillion by 2030 – savvy investors are finding opportunities on the continent.
Where to start when looking to invest in Africa? First-time investors may begin by identifying the largest economies by GDP or the largest cities by population. While it’s certainly useful to explore country- and city-level detail, it may be more pertinent to start at a regional level by identifying groups of countries with similarities. In other words, segmenting the continent into meaningful markets.
In its latest research report on investing in Africa, Bright Africa 2018, independent investment firm RisCura does exactly that. It segments Africa into nine meaningful markets, or regions, by analysing cultural connections, interconnectivity through trade blocs, sharing of expertise, good business relations, and relative ease of transportation, among others.
“Assessing Africa at a regional level gives investors a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of an investment destination by not only analysing the characteristics of the country of interest, but also the support that it receives from its regional partners,” says Heleen Goussard, RisCura’s head of unlisted investment services and principal author of Bright Africa 2018.
Institutional investors are some of the main drivers of the development of capital markets and savings are the necessary ingredient for the development of institutional investors. As more people become more affluent, their ability to save will naturally improve. In addition, technological innovations are enabling certain African pension funds to bridge the divide between the formal and informal employment markets.
According to Bright Africa 2018, RisCura currently estimates pension fund assets in Africa to be US$372 billion, up US$40 million since Bright Africa’s initial release in 2015.
What are the opportunities for investing this capital? In many African countries institutional assets are growing much faster than products are being brought to market. As with previous reports, Bright Africa 2018 looks at equity investments, both listed and unlisted.
From 2014 to mid-2016, African stock markets failed to grow, largely due to decreasing commodity prices and a flight to safety from global investors. In 2015 the region saw the lowest recorded growth rate since 1998. The last quarter of 2016, however, ushered in the start of the African equity recovery as can be seen from the uptick in index returns across the different regions in the Bright Africa 2018 research.
According to the report, Kenya stands out as Africa’s overall winner in terms of listed equity performance. The country’s relative immunity to the commodity cycle, business-friendly environment and the continued integration of the East African Union, has resulted in relatively high levels of investor confidence when compared to other regions in the continent. These returns, however, still only represent a compounded annual return of 10% in US dollar terms.
Not surprisingly, liquidity and the cost of trading remain problematic when investing in African listed equities.
With regards to private equity, Bright Africa 2018 reports that the average purchase price of private companies has risen from 4.8x EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Tax Depreciation and Amortisation) to 7.3x EBITDA between 2009 and 2017.
Due to this rising trend in purchase prices, private equity funds in Africa are increasingly investing in early-stage businesses in the search for earnings growth.
As a large amount of investment capital has yet to be deployed by funds, purchase multiples could increase even further. Funds may therefore continue to invest in early-stage businesses as they search for earnings growth. Assuming the risks remain controlled, this could be a huge boost to African entrepreneurs who normally find it difficult to raise funding for their businesses.
Despite the above, a number of themes unite the continent. The private equity industry continues to grow, with deal activity still increasing and asset prices remaining robust. The growth of Africa’s pensions industry and the resulting increase in local capital available for investment also provide significant opportunity. With the reversal in the commodity cycle likely to provide an additional boost, it appears that the Africa Rising narrative may be alive and well.
Heleen Goussard, RisCura’s head of unlisted investment services and principal author of Bright Africa 2018