Capitalism is alive and well in Africa. Some observers will worry about the recent violence arising from the removal of fuel subsidies. The truth is that today's Nigeria is strong enough to avoid a protracted crisis. This is down to the growing power of the African consumer. A decade or two ago, the rash subsidies decision taken by President Goodluck Jonathan could have brought the country near to a full political meltdown. But in 2012, Nigerian consumers want to buy their groceries and get back to work; they have too much vested in the economy. It's a pattern mirrored across the continent.
Africa is quietly catching up after a period of isolation from the rest of the world between the late 1990s through to 2008. Policymaking has justifiably been criticised for its multi-decade approach of ring-fencing Africa. This created an âus-versus-themâ culture, which hinged on one set of development policies â trade, foreign direct investment, capital market access â for certain countries like China, India, Brazil, but prescribed an aid-centric policy for other (mainly African) countries.
Eoin Treacy's view China's
investments in and deals with a slew of African countries have been well reported
over the last decade. India is increasingly attempting to acquire access to
African resources as are a number of other Asian countries. This is helping
to drive a boom in capital investment and infrastructure. The presence of African
traders in countries such as China is less well reported.
On my trip to China's Zhejiang province last October, I was surprised to see just how many Africans were trawling through the wholesale markets. Most appeared to be aiming their purchases at low cost consumer goods. The type of items one might associate with a Dollar, Pound or Euro store. They would not be in China sourcing goods without the consumer demand to fuel such activity. This suggests that while corruption, politics and disease remain headwinds in Africa, economic development is progressing, albeit from a low base.
When we look at Asia we are aware of oppressive regimes in North Korea and Myanmar but we do not allow them to taint our attitude towards the region generally. There is little doubt that the African political environment is more uncertain than Asia's, however I believe it would be a mistake to allow the nefarious reputations of Somalian pirates, Sudanese Janjaweed or Robert Mugabe to sour one's attitude to the whole continent.
Economic development is one side of the equation but making money from this development is quite another. Apart from South Africa, the Sub Saharan region's capital markets are shallow at best. Thin markets are prone to spectacular advances and violent reactions as a small number of comparatively large funds move in and out.
The UK listed Africa opportunity Fund is one of the better performing Africa oriented funds. It trades at a discount to NAV of 18% and has been ranging with a mild downward bias since early 2011. The fund rallied impressively over the last month and a sustained move below 73p would be required to question potential for some additional upside.