African equities have recently faced strong headwinds, despite the positive fundamental growth prospects presented by the continent, writes RisCura Africa’s Business Development Executive, Gerald Gondo.
If one considers the negative return profiles of a number of the African equity indices over the last two years, it would not be surprising if investors questioned the much-vaunted tag-lines of “Africa rising” and “demographic dividend”. Should they retain their confidence that Africa will master its short-term challenges and look to the long-term prospects?
An important element of the African investment case is the oft-cited demographic dividend – referring to a period where a country’s workforce is young, willing and able to be integrated into the economy and thus continue its economic growth.
But, other elements such as rising disposable income, urbanisation, untapped resources and agriculture also reinforce the need to look beyond short-term challenges and rather to calibrate one’s expectations towards the long-term. These drivers are set to continue to develop and arguably present the prospect of compelling organic growth waiting to be unlocked. The questions investors should be asking are who and how will Africa unlock this growth?
African governments and policy-makers appear quite clear and resolute in their outlook. Evidence of this is the 28th African Union (AU) Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2017 whose theme was, “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth”. This was perhaps a clarion call by Africa’s leadership to revisit its investment case by focussing on possibly its most durable and resilient growth proponent – its youth.
Turning to the AU’s “African Aspirations for 2063” – six aspirations aimed at realising the continent’s potential by 2063 – Aspiration 1 reads as follows:
“A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. We are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent.”
Critical to making in-roads in achieving this aspiration requires African governments, policy-makers, and regulators to undertake a critical review of inhibitors to effective inclusive growth and sustainable development. Deepening, integrating and developing African capital markets is an obvious and immediate area to target.
According to a Milken Institute – Centre for Financial Markets study, “Capital Markets in the East African Community – Developing the Buyside”, these markets are fundamental to economic growth because they help to channel domestic savings in a more productive way. Thereby enabling the private sector to invest, produce and create jobs. African pension funds have been cited as a growing pool of assets that can and should be channelled towards deepening capital markets.
At RisCura, we continue to observe and record the growing asset bases of African pension funds due to rising incomes, with emphasis on the need for these funds to look to diversify their investments away from traditional investments. Particular focus is given to the continued elevated levels of exposure that many African pension funds still have to government fixed income securities, which could largely be attributed to static regulation.
A separate Milken institute study in East African pension funds found that “preferential treatment generally given to government securities through regulatory approaches – specifically, relatively high portfolio ceilings – may induce funds to over allocate to this asset class at the expense of others.”
If Africa is to progress towards achieving Aspiration 1, alongside the remaining six and equally important Aspirations, the pace of capital market reforms needs to be accelerated. RisCura has previously noted several major African countries have revised pension regulations in recent years, with many either considering or actually revising rules around investments such as allowing investments into private equity and non-traditional asset classes. However, the pace of revision remains slow.
Deepening of capital markets may take time, but the channelling of savings towards productive sectors of the economy is not limited only to listed capital markets. Allocations to private equity and infrastructure as alternative assets classes through the burgeoning African private equity and infrastructure funds, will serve as critical interventions to accelerating economic development in Africa.
Regulatory reform will serve as a powerful driver for increased investment that deepen and develop African capital markets. African pension funds and institutional investors have an important and critical role to play in assisting Africa (through prudent channelling of savings) with projects and initiatives that can accelerate the fulfilment of Aspiration 1.
Business Development Executive, RisCura Africa
*This article originally appeared in Today’s Trustee.
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