Category Archives: Politics

Investing in Africa, Good News, Bad News and Faux Pas

As people around the globe eye Africa for potential investment and South Africans head north there is some encouraging news to feed those ambitions, worrying reports to temper our enthusiasm and some mistakes to learn from.
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Ghana’s capital Accra is awash with educated, well-dressed young up-and-coming people, driving top-of-the-range cars living in stylish houses. It’s indicative of Ghana’s economic growth, 4% last year. According to the World Bank many African economies are among the world’s fastest growing in 2015. African countries in the top 20 last year with the highest projected compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2013 through 2015, based on the World Bank’s estimates are: Zambia 7.2%, Tanzania 7.4%, Uganda 3.4%, Sierra Leone 9.5%, DRC 7.9%, Ghana 8.1%, Mozambique 8.7%, Angola 8%, Rwanda 7.8%, Gambia 7.8% and Ethiopia 7.9%.

US-based business consulting company Ernst & Young reports: “There is a story emerging out of Africa: a story of growth, progress, potential and profitability.”  Back in 2013 US secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson is quoted as saying that Africa represents the next global economic growth since 2000, U.S. trade relations with Africa have been dictated by the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). As a unilateral preference scheme of the U.S. to promote trade and investment in Africa, AGOA was meant to boost U.S. trade with Africa and the development of the continent. However, 14 years in, U.S. trade in goods with Africa has demonstrated a perplexing downward trend since 2011. U.S.-Africa trade dwindled from $125 billion in 2011 to $99 billion in 2012 and $85 billion in 2013. For the first five months of 2014, U.S.-Africa trade in goods totalled about $31 billion. At this rate, the total trade volume in 2014 could be well below $80 billion in a continuation of the declining trend. This is largely blamed on an decline in demand for oil from Africa and the fall-out from the 2008 financial crisis

In comparison, Beijing has been quite low-key in disseminating its Africa trade promotion efforts, although its trade with Africa has been growing exponentially. China surpassed the U.S. as Africa’s largest trading partner in 2009. China-Africa trade reached $166 billion in 2011, an 83 percent rise from 2009. The bilateral trade further increased another 19.3 percent to $198 billion in 2012, and passed the $200 billion threshold to $210 billion in 2013. In terms of trade volume, Chinese trade with Africa not only dwarfs U.S. trade with Africa, but the gap is as large as 2.5 times the magnitude of last year. But there’s some dissonance between the rhetoric and action.   {THE HILL}

London based magazine The Economist reported: “Since The Economist regrettably labelled Africa ‘the hopeless continent’ a decade ago, a profound change has taken hold.” Today “the sun shines bright … the continent’s impressive growth looks likely to continue.”

Africa’s trade with the rest of the globe has skyrocketed by more than 200% and annual inflation has averaged only 8%. Foreign debt has dropped by 25% and foreign direct investment (FDI) grew by 27% in 2011 alone and 13% in 2013. Although according to E&Y FDI projects (as opposed to cash) declined by 3% in 2013

Despite projections for growth in 2015 being revised downward due to the so called Arab Spring, lack of demand for oil and a sluggish world economy , Africa’s economy is expected  to expand by 4.2%, according to a UN report earlier in the year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is expecting Sub-Saharan African economies to increase at above 4.5%. Added to that, there are currently more than half a billion mobile phone users in Africa, while improving skills and increasing literacy are attributed to a 3% growth in productivity.

According to a UN report the think tank,  McKinsey Global Institute writes, “The rate of return on foreign investment is higher in Africa than in any other developing region.”

An end to numerous military conflicts, the availability of abundant natural resources and economic reforms have promoted a better business climate and helped propel  Africa’s economic growth.  Greater political stability is greasing the continent’s economic engine. The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in 2005 linked democracy to economic growth. Having said this attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabab in Somalia and Kenya go against this trend and have worrying consequences if not contained. Also in this category would be the so-called  Xenophobic violence in South Africa.

All this growth and urbanisation is putting a strain on social services in cities, it has also led to an increase in urban consumers. More than 40% of Africa’s population now lives in cities, and by 2030 Africa’s top 18 cities will have a combined spending power of $1.3 trillion. The Wall Street Journal reports that Africa’s middle class, currently estimated at 60 million, will reach 100 million by the end of 2015.

Some other sobering news:  “A sustained slowdown in advanced countries will dampen demand for Africa’s exports,” writes Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF. Europe accounts for more than half of Africa’s external trade. Tourism has been and may continue to suffer as fewer Europeans come to Africa, affecting tourist dependent economies like Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt.

The South African Reserve bank warned in May that the financial crisis in Europe, which consumes 25% of South Africa’s exports, poses large risks. Adverse effects on South Africa could have severe consequences for neighbouring economies.

Another worry is the resurgence of political crises. Due to the so called Arab Spring, economic growth in North Africa plummeted to just 0.5% in 2011 and hasn’t recovered much since. Recent coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau could have wider economic repercussions. “Mali was scoring very well, now we are back to square one,” says Mthuli Ncube, the AfDB’s chief economist. Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and other countries have militarily engaged in Somalia, which may slow their economies.

A cause for concern what many are referring to as Africa’s “jobless recovery.” Investors are concentrating on the extractive sector, specifically gold and diamonds, as well as oil, which generates fewer employment opportunities. 60% of Africa’s unemployed are aged 15 to 24 and about half are women. In May, UNDP raised an alarm over food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, a quarter of whose 860 million people are undernourished.

But none of this is deterring South African business interest north of the border. One may ask why? South Africa’s domestic market is not providing local companies with enough growth opportunities, prompting many of them to look at the rest of the continent. This according to Ernst & Young’s Africa Business Centre’s leader, Michael Lalor in an online press conference recently: “While South Africa was still growing well compared to the advanced economies, it’s certainly hasn’t kept up with some of the other rapid-growth markets.” Says Lalor. Now it’s battling to grow at all.

Analysts are pointing out that many of the other emerging markets, such as China and South America, are difficult to enter, making the rest of Africa the obvious choice. Asia is seen as almost excessively competitive. Latin America ventures mean dealing with a very strong and ever present Brazil. Therefore Africa, given its sustainable growth story and its potential, is an obvious region for South African companies to grow into.

Quoted by howemadeitinafica.com Lalor says that most Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies are currently developing strategies for the rest of the continent.   Ernst & Young is experiencing strong interest from foreign companies to invest in the continent. “The response from our clients and from potential investors is overwhelmingly positive, to the extent that we simply cannot keep up. So there’s no doubt that we are seeing significant interest, both spoken, interest in spirit, but also people putting their money where their mouths are,” he said.

These sentiments are confirmed by a survey done last year by Price Waterhouse Coopers. A CEO survey published by PwC found that 94% of South African company heads expect their business in Africa to grow in the next 12 months. PwC interviewed 32 South African CEOs in the ICT, financial services, and consumer and industrial products and services industries.

With this in mind it’s worth turning to Raymond Booyse, founder of consultancy firm Expand into Africa, who identified four mistakes often made by South African companies venturing into the rest of the continent.

The first was: Not doing your homework. South African firms are frequently not prepared to spend money on market research. “Go and look if there is a market for your products or services. After you’ve established that there is indeed a market, find out who your competitors will be,” says Booyse.

Booyse points out that South African companies underestimate transport costs and ignore how local laws and regulations influence doing business.

Secondly: Ignorance. Many South African business people are ignorant of local cultures and attitudes according to Booyse. By way of example, ignorance doesn’t realise that just because they’re both former Portuguese colonies, what works in Angola’s capital Luanda, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in the northern Mozambique. In a recent report, research firm Nielsen noted that African consumers’ attitudes towards technology, fashion and how to spend leisure time vary greatly. No prizes for that one.

Thirdly: Arrogance. Booyse says that South Africans sometimes think they know what people in the rest of the continent need. “In the rest of Africa, South Africans are often regarded as arrogant.”

Finally: Not being prepared for the high costs of doing business in Africa. Many South African companies are not aware of the high costs involved in doing business in the rest of the continent. “If you want to spend two weeks in Angola it will cost you R40,000 (US$4,700),” notes Booyse. “It is not cheap and easy.” Flights for example, from South Africa to either Kinshasa or Lubumbashi can be costly, and hotel rates are also very high.

It’s clear that Africa is a fertile place to plant seed. But Africa is not for the faint-hearted as business is done in a very different way to elsewhere in the world, with all manner of social and political hoops to jump through. South African companies have a potentially bright future and definite advantages if they are prepared to take risks, stay humble and do their homework.

For more articles by Matthew Campaigne-Scott CLICK HERE

South African Self Storrage – Ripe for a REIT?

Self Storage

Self Storage

There are REITs (real estate investment trust) in the US buying up self-storage facilities, speculating their high investment potential in commercial property.  Which begs the question: is there much of self-storage market in South Africa waiting to form part of a REIT?

To give you an idea of self-storage REITs in the US, Real estate investment trust W. P. Carey Inc. has acquired three Florida self-storage facilities from Safeguard Self Storage for approximately $25 million. The purchase was made through CPA: 17 Global, one of W.P. Carey’s publicly held non-traded REIT affiliates.

“We believe that these are very well-positioned and attractive assets. The quality of the assets in combination with the capabilities of the Extra Space management team and our own experience in the self-storage sector makes us confident that this will be a good and stable investment for our investors,” said Liz Raun Schlesinger, W. P. Carey Executive Director

Through its publicly held REIT affiliate CPA: 17 Global, self-storage investor W. P. Carey & Co. LLC has acquired five self-storage facilities : Alabama (1), Louisiana (1) and Mississippi (3) for approximately $17 million. The acquisition comprises approximately 117 348sqm. The properties will be rebranded under the CubeSmart name and managed by the self-storage REIT’s property-management division.

W. P. Carey Executive Director Liz Raun Schlesinger added, “We believe that adding these seasoned assets while retaining the experienced CubeSmart management team will enhance the value and stability of this investment. We know the CubeSmart management team well and look forward to working with them to maximize the value of these assets for our investors.”

outdoor-self-storage-spacesOne may want to argue that self-storage is an American phenomenon. Not so. It is true that self –storage in South Africa was practically non-existent 10 years ago. However, a few agricultural-land owners began building 25 to 50 garages on their plots on city outskirts. They developed the properties in phases as they generated cash flow, building an average of 300 units per facility. These facilities enjoyed an average occupancy of 90 per cent and a decent rental income.

The residential market was the target market for most self-storage firms.  The consumer was largely unaware of the industry’s existence. Marketing was scarce and almost no value added services were included.  It was also extremely difficult to buy an existing facility as the original developers were getting excellent returns and had no motivation to sell. Nor were there any specialty self-storage property-management companies, or an association to welcome potential investors into the industry.

Many of these shortfalls have been rectified. There are now roughly 70,000 self-storage units in South Africa, with an average occupancy of 80 per cent, meaning 56,000 units are occupied at any given time.  As the self-storage industry grows in South Africa, it also evolves. Innovations have been introduced such as precast concrete building systems, which allow a 400-unit development to be completed in just six months at half the cost of brick buildings. Sectional title developments are also available for small investors, who can purchase and register any number of units in a facility, much like purchasing apartments in a complex.

Storage Genie, started by Father and son Herbert and Dylan Wolpe,  is in the process of finalizing deals with American steel-building suppliers to import buildings based on a unique joint-venture strategy. The idea is the buildings are supplied on a rent-to-buy basis. Storage Genie provides the land and management, and the building supplier shares the revenue and future profit from resale.

The South African self-storage industry ranks fifth in the world in terms of the number of operating facilities, according to SASSI. Based in Cape Town, the company promotes the development of and investment in institutional-quality self-storage assets throughout South Africa. Pritty Woman

“The S.A. self-storage sector remains highly fragmented, and recent market turmoil could have the effect of hastening the first round of consolidation or hindering its progress.” Gavin Lucas of ISS (Inside Self-Storage) Depressed market conditions mean there is less capital to support an attempt to take the industry through an initial consolidation. However, the distressed trading environment will also present the opportunity for an established operator with the correct business model and platforms to acquire facilities that are struggling due to their own inefficiencies.

We may not be quite in the ballpark of REITs for self-storage yet but  the self-storage industry is pregnant with possibilities and waiting for savvy players to swoop in and make a go of an industry that shows a great deal of promise both for expansion and investment potential.

Latin Lessons in Retail – Africa Take Note

Screen shot 2011-10-11 at 3.21.32 PMWith the death of Hugo Chavez dominating news a while back many commentators continue speculating on the future of Venezuela’s property and retail markets, Will the current Latin Socialism continue? But despite the spread of so called Latin Socialism, Latin America is experiencing free market forces not unlike those influencing much of Africa. Have emerging markets of Africa and Latin America anything in common when it comes to the development of retail space for their growing middle classes.

Africa in general and South Africa in particular has much in common with Latin America’s labour force. Although Asia’s, for example, current competitiveness relies considerably on its working-age population, Latin America and Africa’s outlook for labour force growth is much stronger, as young inhabitants set to join the labour force make up a higher percentage of those continents’ populations.

Like Africa, Latin American consumer demand is rapidly growing and the expanding middle class currently represents about 60% of the total population and approximately 40% of total purchasing power. With demand for newer retail infrastructure increasing, opportunities exist for developers and retailers who seek to expand their consumer base.

However, people are asking questions about whether the emerging African middle class is as big as the experts believe. Rapid urbanisation rates are pushing up potential consumer numbers but not necessarily incomes. These factors, among many others, are inhibiting the intention of developers and retailers to build critical mass quickly in African markets. It may still be a while before their high expectations manifest in the real world.

In Latin America however, development is increasing shopping centre space. In most of the region’s countries, traditional high street retail has gradually deteriorated as retail markets mature, with retailers migrating toward shopping centres. This has for some time been considered one of the drawbacks of the shopping centre invasion. Small businesses are seen to suffer and local decay of commercial real estate creeps in. This seems to be universal, with stark examples in both Africa and Latin America.

Latin American supermarkets have already seen notsable expansion and, among retailer types, they are expected to expand the most quickly—with new developments anchored by Wal-Mart, Carrefour and strong local players such as Commercial Mexicana (Mexico) , Pao de Acucar (Brazil) and Jumbo (Chile & Argentina).

By way of comparison, international brands such as Nike and McDonalds and KFC do currently have a presence in shopping centres in Africa. But an international study of retailers by South African property management company Broll, indicates very few players are prepared to commit. Out of over three hundred companies surveyed, scant few were considering African markets at all. There is evidence of interest in SA and North African countries but little attention has been paid to markets that South African companies are eyeing like Kenya, Nigeria and Mozambique and Zambia.[Broll]

Enter the Power Centre. A power centre is an unenclosed shopping centre with 23,000 m2 to 70,000 m2 of gross leasable area that usually contains three or more big names retailers and various smaller retailers, usually located in strip malls, with a common parking area shared among the retailers. [Wiki]Power Centres seem to have less of an appeal in Africa in that big retailers get behind the big conventional mall developments or not at all. Also the Power Mall presupposes a culture of one-shopper-one-car. Not a common African phenomena.  In Latin American markets, Power centres have increased their footprints, with larger areas leased to specialized retailers. Power centres are also beginning to play a more important role in second-tier cities, targeted at lower income groups.

Changes in local government policies in Latin America as well as attractive yields and moderate risk have encouraged major international developers to focus more on commercial development in the region, and local investors to expand their operations to neighbouring countries. Companies such as BR Properties, Westfield and Brookfield began to invest extensively in retail property development nearly four years ago, and they have grown their retail asset portfolios across the region.

Alas in Africa problem-free land title is one of the challenges. Litigation from multiple claimants remains an ever-present threat. Disproportionately high costs of land and obtainability of large parcels of it in choked-up urban areas is a huge challenge.  Similarly, Africa is challenged by the limited availability of long-term debt and a relatively low level of interest by international institutions in African property funds. Electricity outages and all sorts of other elements in the supply chain push up costs hence high rentals are required in order to achieve a reasonable return.

In 2012, retail commercial real estate transactions in Latin America represented 37% of the region’s total volume of U.S. $12 billion, and 25% of the number of deals. [Source CBRE] The lack of adequate supply, especially in secondary locations, and consumer fundamentals such as credit availability, will continue to be key drivers for retail expansion, regardless of the specifics of each country market. Africa lacks a certain sophistication compared to its Latin rivals for foreign direct investment. Both these developing markets are hungry for attention from international developers and investors. Local government legislation and infrastructure may play a more important role than the emergence of a middle class with spending power to release the funds and set the wheels in motion for African retail space.

African Growth: Competitive Investment and at What Price?

Courtesy - The Economist

Courtesy – The Economist

Africa for so long a collective of querulous bankruptcies and killing fields has seen its coffers increasing and democratic advances reaping peace and prosperity.  The International Monetary Fund predicts sub-Saharan Africa growing at 5.4 per cent this year compared to 1.4 per cent for developed economies.

Africa’s is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies and rapidly rising disposable incomes. A decade of relative political stability has also helped the case for African investment.

New investors come expecting bargains because the continent is still seen as poor. However investors looking to buy into future growth are now paying a premium due to sellers savvy to opportunities being fewer and further between.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s attractiveness as an investment destination has risen to fifth place in 2012 from seventh in 2011, according to a survey by the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association. Opportunities traditionally existed in mining but speakers at Reuters Africa Investment Summit in September have pointed to consumer and banking services sectors as the next big thing.

Africa’s largest telecoms operator MTN is a perfect example of a company that paid what was considered a weighty price at the time, for the right to commence operations in Nigeria 11 years ago. It paid $285 million for a mobile license, now it has over 41 million subscribers and banked revenues of 34.9 billion rand ($4.47 billion) in 2011.

Actis, a private equity firm in emerging markets, said it was recently outbid in a North African deal by a trade buyer that offered 12 times EBITDA (Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and…). Valuations on the continent are, however, cheap compared with price demands in bigger emerging economies in Asia. Speaking to Reuters, John van Wyk, the firm’s co-head for the region said: “Valuations, depending on the sector, can be quite high but … compare that to the 16 times EBITDA multiple you are being asked for in India or China, that’s kind of stratospheric stuff.” “We are quite bullish about the continent but Africa doesn’t come without its challenges,” van Wyk said.

It seems that it is not unusual for new investors on the continent to make the mistake of coming with preconceived ideas of where valuations should be.

The world’s biggest retailer Wal-Mart bought a majority stake in South Africa’s Massmart for $2.4 billion in 2011, a 19 per cent premium to the 30-day volume weighted average price. With that has come a great deal of political and legal manoeuvring that remains to be finalised.

Even where companies are willing to pay a premium for a good target, companies of the right size are hard to come by. Every big African brewer, for example, has been nailed down, according to SABMiller’s head for the region, Mark Bowman. “No one is getting anything for a reasonable price any more; you are paying for a future opportunity a significant premium. Anything that would become available would be aggressively priced and one would have to take a view if it’s worth it,” he told Reuters. Diageo, consumer goods companies with a portfolio of world-famous drinks brands, dug up a heavy $225 million for an Ethiopian state brewery last year, months after Heineken paid $163 million for two other beer makers in that country.

Emerging Capital Partners is opening an office in Nairobi, its seventh office on the continent, to grab east African opportunities. Alex-Handrah Aime, a director of the Africa-focused ECapitalP: believes that one way of bridging the valuation gap is for buyers to start with a convertible bond, instead of taking up equity at the onset. Private equity firms need to avoid auctions to keep a lid on valuations, she told Reuters. “It’s a competitive process. If you end up in an auction situation … the person who pays the most is going to win. That’s not necessarily the valuation that is going to be most sensible.”

Some investors have turned their backs on what they see as inflated prices. South Africa’s second-largest banking group First Rand dropped its bid for Nigeria’s Sterling Bank last year after the two disagreed on price.

Interestingly Middle East investors, though slow to join the fray, are competing for investment opportunities on the continent. Not short of oily billions and short of investment opportunities in the developed world, Africa is looking attractive.

However challenges have been quickly recognised. One is the relatively small size of potential deals. “The Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds are very interested in Africa, the challenge that they face is the increment at which they need to invest is way too large for the continent at the moment,” Diana Layfield, Africa chief executive at Britain’s Standard Chartered Plc. told Reuters in an interview on the side-lines of the World Economic Forum on Africa.

“Definitely there will be more (investment) coming to Africa,” Saudi Arabian Minister for Agriculture Farad Balghunaim told Reuters. “With the clear vision that is building up in African leadership now, there will be more and more investors from Saudi Arabia,” he said in Addis Ababa.

However accessing growth is not a given. There is a lack of liquidity in public capital markets. For private equity bankers, there is often a shortage of deals that can meet their mandate when it comes to size. For example, emerging markets private equity firm is reportedly aiming for individual deals of $50 million or more in Africa, meaning it has to focus on the continent’s biggest economies – South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria – to find deals.

Dubai’s Abraaj Capital is in the process of acquiring UK-based private equity firm Aureos Capital, which invests in small and medium-sized businesses in Africa, Latin America and Asia. “We tend to have a sweet spot at around $10 million, but we have investments as low as $2 million and going up to about $35 million,” Davinder Sikand, Aureos’ regional managing partner for Africa told Reuters.

“Our focus has been to build regional champions. So we’ll take positions in businesses that can demonstrate management vision and build (them) out, recognising that each of our markets other than Nigeria and South Africa are fairly small markets, and you need to build that scale.”

Due to the constraints in their home markets, Middle East investors are familiar with Africa’s challenges, such as the poor infrastructure, the shortage of a highly trained workforce and the lack of liquidity in capital markets.

Frederic Sicre, a partner at Abraaj Capital told Reuters: “Behind us are 200 of the wealthiest merchant families, royal families from the Middle East, and sovereign wealth funds from the Middle East. We can pull them in to looking at the infrastructure development space, or the big utility development space, into looking at the opportunities here.”

Clearly the continent has become a far more competitive place than it used to be. Despite many target deals being on the small side for the bigger players, the expected returns are considered reward enough in the long term. Africa, -keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. If democratisation continues, peace will abound and prosperity should follow the necessary hard work buoyed by investment.

South Africa is Part of Africa, but will it Take Part in Africa?

The World Bank has likened the doubling of African manufacturing output over the last decade to China’s position thirty years ago. Emerging Markets Investment firm Actis’ real estate director Louis Deppe believes that South African investors who ignore the potential in African markets do so at their own peril.

Ivor Ichikowitz, founder of Paramount Group, a privately owned defence and aerospace company, believes South Africans have looked to Asia and the West for the best ideas and viewed them as their natural competitors, as opposed to our African neighbours.

Louis Deppe of Actis

Louis Deppe told Moneyweb at an Africa Property Investment Summit in Sandton. “You have no choice not to care about Africa. It’s on your doorstep. Some significant economies are going to overtake South Africa in a very short space of time. They’re growing faster and have far more potential to grow.”

An example Deppe probably has in mind would be Ethiopia, their economy is expanding at 7.5% annually and that’s not just traditional industries like mining and agriculture, it’s also manufacturing. An example on the periphery of Addis Ababa is Chinese shoe maker Huajian, which has built a factory employing around 500 workers.

An economist at the World Bank who recently wrote a report on light manufacturing in Africa cites this as an example of how Africa could overtake Asia to potentially become the world’s next manufacturing hub.  Low labour costs, the availability of natural resources, and preferential access (duty-free and quota-free access) to the US and EU markets are all some of the advantages of operating in Africa.

It is predicted that Nigeria, with a growth rate of 7% should overtake South Africa by 2015. Louis Deppe warns that up until now, South Africa, being, arguably, the most democratic and stable country on the continent, has been able to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), often getting the lion’s share compared to other African countries. Once other countries also start fulfilling some basic requirements, this will no longer be the case.

South Africa used to be the gateway to the rest of Africa. If foreign investors wanted to set up and go into Africa, the FDI would come to SA first, before moving up north. This is no longer happening and foreign investors are now moving directly into Africa from China, Europe and the United States.

Nairobi – an “African Tech Hub”

By 2035, the continent’s work force will be greater than any individual state on earth.  Nigeria and Ethiopia will add over 30 million workers by 2020, whereas South Africa is looking at adding 2 million.

However, it’s not just manufacturing that Africa is excelling in and challenging South Africa. The Economist recently (August 2012) named Nairobi an “African tech hub” because of the hundreds of start-ups that have sprung up in the last few years. Kenya’s exports of technology related services have risen from $16m in 2002 to $360m in 2010. It is also a world leader in the adoption of mobile payments technology – and is far ahead of China and India.

According to Ivor Ichikowitz, within a few years Kenya could soon emerge as a world leader in mobile payments and export the technology to countries across the world.

He also refers to the African film industry. The Nigerian movie industry, which has overtaken South Africa’s to become the strongest on the continent worth £500m and producing more films than Hollywood every year. The films may not be international blockbusters, but they have huge appeal across Nigeria and Africa, and prove that Africans have the creativity to compete in non-traditional industries.

Nigerian Movie Industry Worth R6Billion in 2011

Clearly we need to be at least aware of what our neighbours are doing if our market is shrinking or stagnating and the world around us is getting bigger, we risk becoming less relevant in the grand scheme of things. Alas it seems the South African economy is sliding backwards while the rest of the continent is in first gear. Most African markets that Louis Deppe’s Actis group invests in are experiencing 7% GDP growth. “Despite claims of corruption, a lot of that money still filters down into the economy, there’s a lot of economic drive and growth.” he said. He added that on the development side, Actis was getting returns of between 13% and 14%.

But Ivor Ichikowitz has a positive spin on this: “it’s a positive opportunity for us to export our products and knowledge and generally expand trade with other African nations, which in turn will generate jobs for the youth of our country.”

South Africa has some great assets – its infrastructure, mature private sector, well developed services sector, stock exchange – that give us the opportunity to provide a range of goods and services to help grow our own economy, but we can work harder to maximise these advantages.

IVOR ICHIKOWITZ

Ichikowitz says that countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria are rushing forward and emerging as serious competitors for destinations of foreign capital.

This is pressuring our government and business leaders to look more closely at their policies and approach to business. The harsh reality is that if South Africa is to retain its position as the leading economy on the continent it can’t for a minute ‘rest on its laurels’.

Ichikowitz doesn’t see South Africa as being in competition with the rest of Africa, but rather in a position to learn from and impart learning to neighbouring states, which is why it is essential that we share technologies and collaborate to build strong regional industries that bolster inter-Africa trade.

Deppe looks more into the nitty-gritty glancing back to what he refers to as a watershed year for property investments in South Africa, 2010, after the World Cup. “We had all these infrastructural projects, the economy had withstood the 2008 global recession. Then suddenly: what’s next in SA? There’s not much left in South Africa, we are a saturated market.” Deppe said by way of illustration that vacancy rates had increased in many shopping centres across the country. As a result, investors’ returns at 7% or 8%, which were not great to begin with, are shrinking and are likely to be impacted further. He said with GDP growth in South Africa being below 3%

New South African Bank Notes

“you’re not even going to get out of the starting blocks. You’re actually going backwards in real terms.”

The troubling dynamic among South Africa investors is their reluctance to invest in Africa stems from an unfounded conservatism. “With the South African base not as strong as it was, it’s forcing people into a mind-set to look abroad. I don’t think they have a choice.” Deppe said.

Cape Town’s Community Upgrades – bread or cake?

Fairhaven-playground-spray-park Washington

When there are Royal weddings and countries jostle to hold grand sporting events it’s often to distract the people from recessions, wars and scandals. So it’s hard not to be a little cynical about grand gestures by politicians purportedly for the good of the masses. Some would suggest a connection between the ANC youth league’s intention to make Cape Town ungovernable and the latest announcement by the City to spend R132 million on community facilities this municipal financial year.

Perhaps it’s disingenuous of those who may be casting aspersions on the motives of the council and we should all just be grateful that something tangible is in the pipeline for underserviced communities, even if it isn’t infrastructure, housing or education related.

According to Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services, Councillor Tandeka Gqada: “It’s important that residents of all communities have the kind of facilities that ensure an improved and more enjoyable quality of life. We are committed to providing this for the people of the Cape Town municipality and this upgrade plan is just one of the many ways we are doing that” the SA The Good News website reports her saying.

In short the City of Cape Town’s Community Services Directorate is embarking on a series of planned upgrades, with the intention of providing quality recreational and educational services across the City. In total, the upgrades will cost more than R132 million over the next municipal financial year.

The City will be building brand new facilities and upgrading established facilities in order to attain what it says are “world class standards.”

Plans include sports centres and swimming pools, halls, libraries and parks. One of the main buzz phrases to come out of the announcement is ‘spray parks’.  A spray park is a water feature which sprays water so users can play in it. Essentially, it is sprinklers installed intermittently in a grassy area.

Gqada has explained that the spray park concept is being applied worldwide with great success. She has pointed out that as a spray park has no standing water, it “eliminates the need for lifeguards or other supervision as there is practically no risk of drowning”.

Spray parks are intended to service communities where there is no municipal swimming pool, school pools or pools in private houses. The City has mapped every single swimming pool in the metro to ensure that new pools and spray parks are built in the most ‘appropriate’ areas of the city.

Areas in which community upgrades and new developments are planned include Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Imizamo Yethu, Du Noon, Nyanga and Athlone. The City’s position is that identification of these areas form part of the City’s long term redress plan to eradicate the historical legacy of Apartheid.

Athlone is an example area for Community Service upgrades and development. The City of Cape Town’s Community Service Directorate has added Vygieskraal Stadium, the Manenberg municipal pool and the Athlone municipal pool to their list of facilities to be revamped.  A total of R3.2 million of the project’s funds will be spent in Athlone. The project is set to be complete by June 2013.

Tandeka Gqada said via a press release that two primary methods are used to identify and prioritise under-served communities. “Firstly, community research is used to determine from communities what their needs and preferences relating to community facilities are,” she said.  “Secondly, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was commissioned by the City to analyse current community facility provision and distribution, and model future needs spatially, for the whole metropolitan municipal area.”

Kewtown and Heideveld will be receiving a full-size artificial soccer field in the next municipal financial year to the tune of around R5 million each based on the above facility planning methodology.

People’s Post spoke to Kewtown resident and high school teacher, Ian McLean, who believes not upgrading any educational services in Athlone “is an indictment on the City itself”. However, he is thrilled that the Athlone pool will be upgraded. “An upgrade for that pool is long overdue,” says McLean. “We were promised it would be fixed up before the 2010 World Cup but nothing happened. I’m glad that something will finally be done about it now,” he says.

Ian McLean at least has a positive attitude despite concerns about unattended areas of need. One can only hope others do to, especially since these upgrades and developments can only have a positive spin-off for the communities involved. However when communities are in turmoil about basic service delivery spray parks and the like may seem like offering “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” that is: “let them eat cake.”

Ghana’s Economy, Sending Mixed Signals

Ghana’s economy is sending the world mixed signals. Last year it saw growth skyrocketing, influenced largely by the launch of oil production at its Jubilee oil field in November, sending GDP soaring by nearly 15 per cent. But that growth rate is expected to nearly halve to 8.2 per cent this year as oil production has averaged 80,000 bpd as opposed to the 250 000 bpd that was anticipated for 2013. Either way it’s all growth and the spinoff for the rest of the economy is worth taking notice of.

Ernst & Young defines Rapid Growth Markets (RGMs) as countries with economies and populations of a certain size that display strong growth potential and are, or could be, strategically important for business. Ghana will this year be among the three fastest growing economies from a group of 25 global RGMs, according to a new Ernst & Young report. Ghana’s burgeoning oil industry is credited with the recent rapid economic growth.

Jubilee Oil Fields

The sudden slowdown in growth since the beginning of 2012 is expected to be just a phase. “Our analysis suggests that RGMs are likely to weather the on-going Eurozone crisis and remain engines of global growth, though many will see expansion slow this year,” says Alexis Karklins-Marchay, co-leader of the E&Y Emerging Markets Centre. “Their expansion is expected to accelerate once more in 2013, helping stimulate a wider pick-up.”

The report is dependent on Ghana’s oil output rising, be it gradually. Nevertheless, Ghana’s growth is comparable with other African oil producers. Angola’s economy is expected to grow 9.1 per cent this year, surpassing the rate of stalwart Nigeria, seen growing 7.0 per cent this year. Ghana’s Oil exports should also help to sustain the public finances and the balance of payments, which have been affected by higher government spending.

Ernst & Young forecasts GDP growth of approximately 7% for 2013 and an average of 5% annually over the medium term. “While Ghana will only be a small oil producer, production of the commodity has boosted medium-term growth prospects,” says E&Y.

Growth’s knock-on effect on infrastructure is worth noting. Foreign direct investment into Africa in 2010 fell by 9% but rose significantly in Ghana. The promise of an oil boom has attracted the interest of global construction and infrastructure companies.

An example of this interest has been the signing of a $2 billion letter of intent by Hasan International Holding, a Chinese corporation, to develop an advanced industrial facility near the port of Takoradi, which handles 60% of the country’s crops and mineral exports according to a report by Euromonitor International.

The expected on-going effect should be the creation of jobs in the region, attracting local and foreign workers, which could provide a substantial consumer foundation for retailers looking to expand outside of the capital, Accra.

Another example of infrastructure growth is Helios Towers Africa, a company that leases space on telecom towers to mobile network operators. By owning and managing the towers, Helios allows the network operators to focus on their core business. Helios Towers Africa (HTA) was founded in 2009 and is the leading independent, telecoms tower company in Africa with operations currently in Ghana, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Pioneers of the sale-leaseback model in Africa, the Helios model of shared telecoms infrastructure, is helping to deliver improved operating and capital efficiency for mobile network operators, reducing costs, increasing accessibility and improving network quality of service for users. Together with subsidiary HTN they own and manage 3,500 telecom towers, the largest number held by an independent company focused exclusively on Africa.

Due to the infrastructure investment deficit in most sub-Saharan African markets, the timing is perfect. Unless telecoms infrastructure investment in Africa increases, it will be impossible to serve the burgeoning levels of consumer demand for 2G voice, let alone the site densification required for 3G coverage, improved capacity and the rapid growth in data traffic.

More than 60% of Ghana’s population are mobile phone subscribers. Mirroring a trend common throughout Africa, mobiles are increasingly used as a means for cashless payments/transfers, and target the large unbanked population. An example is MTN’s Mobile Money, a service that allows users to send cash and purchase goods from participating retailers.

Retail space has not gone untouched by Ghana’s growth.  Accra, Ghana’s capital is a microcosm. The majority of modern retail space has been developed in Accra, due to better infrastructure and access to a large population. An Euromonitor report notes that Ghana’s retail industry achieved 14% value growth between 2006 and 2011, which reflects the strength of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies in the country.

An example is Danish-based dairy firm Fan Milk Group. It is reporting 10 times the turnover per capita in Ghana than in Nigeria. In 2010, Ghana was the largest market for the company and, with a turnover of US$67 million, accounted for 48% of the group’s revenue and 64% of its operating profit. Other cases include Unilever and PZ Cussons “The presence of such manufacturers provides a good opportunity for retailers as they can source these manufacturers’ products cheaper locally rather than importing them,” says Euromonitor.

On the retail front, according to Howwemadeitinafrica.com:  RMB Westport, a South African property firm, is also working on two mixed-use developments in Accra. The first is West Ridge Head Office where the ground floor will offer retail space while offices will occupy the rest of the building. The second location is Icon House, close to the airport and Accra Mall, which will also offer retail space.

Artists Impression of Takoradi Port after redevelopment

One place which is a microcosm of the effects of growth in Ghana is the port city of Takoradi. It is expected to see significant growth because of its proximity to the country’s offshore oil fields. Before Ghana began with hard-core commercial oil production in 2011, Takoradi was designated as a backwater town. Nevertheless, it has since risen to prominence due to being the nearest commercial port to Ghana’s offshore oil industry.

In a recent development investment firm Renaissance Group announced a new mixed-use urban development, called King City, to be located 10km from the Takoradi harbour.

King City will be developed on 1,000 ha of land and is designed around a live-work-play concept. It will accommodate residential and commercial growth associated with the region’s mining and energy sector boom. According to Renaissance, the development will feature shopping facilities as well as residential and commercial components. King City will be built in phases over 10 years and is expected to eventually be home to over 90,000 residents.

Other news is that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has provided a loan of US$5.45 million to Alliance Estates Limited, to build the first Protea Hotel in Takoradi. The 132-room, three-star hotel will help meet demand for business infrastructure as more investors are venturing into the oil producing region of Takoradi. The Protea Hotel will be amongst the first to provide international-standard rooms, rates and conference facilities.

Potential boom towns in Ghana like Takoradi offer attractive opportunities from a property development perspective – especially for hotel and retail developments.

Ghana moved up the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings from 102nd in 2005 to 60th in 2011. Also internal tariffs are being abolished, allowing for a greater level of intra-regional trade. All good news. Yet analysts remain concerned about a weakening cedi currency due to rising imports for the oil industry.

Inflation has trended upwards, making life difficult for locals, even though economic growth is on the rise from the oil production. A Reuters poll forecasts inflation averaging 9.6 per cent this year and 9.3 for 2013. The inflation rate rose for a fourth straight month in June to 9.4 per cent from 9.3 per cent previously. The cedi has lost over a third of its value since it began producing oil in November 2010, trading now at around 1.95 per dollar.

So it is mixed signals for the investor. Ghana’s growth is coming in ebbs and flows. The development of Ghana’s infrastructure, catalysed in part by the discovery of off-shore oil reserves, and the country’s movement to political stability, has paved the way to sustainable economic growth. With this has come retail potential and prospects that could see Ghana emerge as the next retail hub in the region.

Investing in Africa, Good News, Bad News and Faux Pars

Accra Mall Ghana

As people around the globe eye Africa for potential investment and South Africans head north there is some encouraging news to feed those ambitions, worrying reports to temper our enthusiasm and some mistakes to learn from.

Ghana’s capital Accra is awash with educated, well-dressed young up-and-coming people, driving top-of-the-range cars living in stylish houses. It’s indicative of Ghana’s economic growth, 14.4% last year. According to the World Bank many African economies are forecast to be among the world’s fastest growing in 2012. Top of that list are the DRC, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Ethiopia.

US-based business consulting company Ernst & Young reports: “There is a new story emerging out of Africa: a story of growth, progress, potential and profitability.”  US secretary of state for African affairs, Johnnie Carson is quoted as saying that Africa represents the next global economic frontier. China’s trade with Africa reached $160 billion in 2011, making the continent one of its largest trading partners.

London based magazine The Economist reported last month: “Since The Economist regrettably labelled Africa ‘the hopeless continent’ a decade ago, a profound change has taken hold.” Today “the sun shines bright … the continent’s impressive growth looks likely to continue.”

Africa’s trade with the rest of the globe has skyrocketed by more than 200% and annual inflation has averaged only 8%. Foreign debt has dropped by 25% and foreign direct investment (FDI) grew by 27% in 2011 alone.

Despite projections for growth in 2012 being revised downward due to the so called Arab Spring , Africa’s economy is expected  to expand by 4.2%, according to a UN report earlier in the year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is expecting Sub-Saharan African economies to increase at above 5%. Added to that, there are currently more than half a billion mobile phone users in Africa, while improving skills and increasing literacy are attributed to a 3% growth in productivity.

According to a UN report the think tank,  McKinsey Global Institute writes, “The rate of return on foreign investment is higher in Africa than in any other developing region.”

An end to numerous military conflicts, the availability of abundant natural resources and economic reforms have promoted a better business climate and helped propel  Africa’s economic growth.  Greater political stability is greasing the continent’s economic engine. The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in 2005 linked democracy to economic growth.

All this growth and urbanisation is putting a strain on social services in the cities, it has also led to an increase in urban consumers. More than 40% of Africa’s population now lives in cities, and by 2030 Africa’s top 18 cities will have a combined spending power of $1.3 trillion. The Wall Street Journal reports that Africa’s middle class, currently estimated at 60 million, will reach 100 million by 2015.

Then there’s the more sobering news.  “A sustained slowdown in advanced countries will dampen demand for Africa’s exports,” writes Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF. Europe accounts for more than half of Africa’s external trade. Tourism could also suffer as fewer Europeans come to Africa, effecting tourist dependent economies like Kenya, Tanzania and Egypt.

The South African Reserve bank warned in May that the financial crisis in Europe, which consumes 25% of South Africa’s exports, poses large risks. Adverse effects on South Africa could have severe consequences for neighbouring economies.

Another worry is the resurgence of political crises. Due to the so called Arab Spring, economic growth in North Africa plummeted to just 0.5% in 2011. Recent coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau could have wider economic repercussions. “Mali was scoring very well, now we are back to square one,” says Mthuli Ncube, the AfDB’s chief economist. Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and other countries have militarily engaged in Somalia, which may slow their economies. And Nigeria is grappling with Boko Haram, a terrorist sect in the north of that country.

A cause for concern what many are referring to as Africa’s “jobless recovery.” Investors are concentrating on the extractive sector, specifically gold and diamonds, as well as oil, which generates fewer employment opportunities. 60% of Africa’s unemployed are aged 15 to 24 and about half are women. In May, UNDP raised an alarm over food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, a quarter of whose 860 million people are undernourished.

But none of this is deterring South African business interest north of the border. One may ask why? South Africa’s domestic market is not providing local companies with enough growth opportunities, prompting many of them to look at the rest of the continent. This according to Ernst & Young’s Africa Business Centre’s leader, Michael Lalor in an online press conference recently: “While South Africa is still growing well compared to the advanced economies, it’s certainly not keeping up with some of the other rapid-growth markets.” Says Lalor.

Analysts are pointing out that many of the other emerging markets, such as China and South America, are difficult to enter, making the rest of Africa the obvious choice. Asia is seen as almost excessively competitive. Latin America ventures mean dealing with a very strong and ever present Brazil. Therefore Africa, given its sustainable growth story and its potential, is an obvious region for South African companies to grow into.

Quoted by howemadeitinafica.com Lalor says that most Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies are currently developing strategies for the rest of the continent.   Ernst & Young is experiencing strong interest from foreign companies to invest in the continent. “The response from our clients and from potential investors is overwhelmingly positive, to the extent that we simply cannot keep up. So there’s no doubt that we are seeing significant interest, both spoken, interest in spirit, but also people putting their money where their mouths are,” he said.

These sentiments are confirmed by a survey done last year by Price Waterhouse Coopers. A CEO survey published by PwC found that 94% of South African company heads expect their business in Africa to grow in the next 12 months. PwC interviewed 32 South African CEOs in the ICT, financial services, and consumer and industrial products and services industries.

With this in mind it’s worth turning to Raymond Booyse, founder of consultancy firm Expand into Africa, who identified four mistakes often made by South African companies venturing into the rest of the continent.

The first was: Not doing your homework. South African firms are frequently not prepared to spend money on market research. “Go and look if there is a market for your products or services. After you’ve established that there is indeed a market, find out who your competitors will be,” says Booyse.

Booyse points out that South African companies underestimate transport costs and ignore how local laws and regulations influence doing business.

Secondly: Ignorance. Many South African business people are ignorant of local cultures and attitudes according to Booyse. By way of example, ignorance doesn’t realise that just because they’re both former Portuguese colonies, what works in Angola’s capital Luanda, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in the northern Mozambique. In a recent report, research firm Nielsen noted that African consumers’ attitudes towards technology, fashion and how to spend leisure time vary greatly. No prizes for that one.

Thirdly: Arrogance. Booyse says that South Africans sometimes think they know what people in the rest of the continent need. “In the rest of Africa, South Africans are often regarded as arrogant.”

Finally: Not being prepared for the high costs of doing business in Africa. Many South African companies are not aware of the high costs involved in doing business in the rest of the continent. “If you want to spend two weeks in Angola it will cost you R40,000 (US$4,700),” notes Booyse. “It is not cheap and easy.” Flights for example, from South Africa to either Kinshasa or Lubumbashi can be costly, and hotel rates are also very high.

It’s clear that Africa is a fertile place to plant seed. But Africa is not for the faint-hearted as business is done in a very different way to elsewhere in the world, with all manner of social and political hoops to jump through. South African companies have a potentially bright future and definite advantages if they are prepared to take risks, stay humble and do their homework.

On your marks, get set…Africa! SA Business moves into Africa.

On your marks, get set…Africa!

In the face of declining world markets and the lack of prospects in the West, Africa is looking more and more like a place to do business.

Africa, with all its angst and chaotic history and struggle with social upheaval is showing a resilience and sense of survival at which we can marvel.

The International Monetary Fund anticipates emerging economies in general and Africa in particular will expand by 4.5% this year and 4.8% in 2013. An interesting indicator has been residential property values, which, on average, rose by 8% in 2011. (AFDB Statistics)  Economic growth is expected to continue despite recessionary trends in some parts of the world.

Although income disparities exist across Africa an authentic middle class is evolving. It is estimated that sixty million African households have annual incomes greater than $3,000 at market exchange rates. By 2015, that number is expected to reach a hundred million.

Urbanisation is pushing up demand for all kinds of real estate:  office space, retail complexes and of course, housing. The growth of, and potential for, infrastructure projects abounds. This has the positive spins off for labour too.

South African business, it could be said, is scrambling. Recently Resilient, known for its successful serial development of non-metropolitan shopping malls outside of the major urban nodes, expressed dissatisfaction with local red tape and revealed it would spend more than 1 billion rand building 10 shopping malls in Nigeria.  The malls, 10,000 square meters and 15,000 square meters in size, will be built over the next three years in the capital, Abuja, and the city of Lagos respectively, the main commercial hubs. Shoprite, Africa’s largest food retailer, will be the major tenant.

Wal-Mart-owned Massmart last month said it would invest in African growth and hoped to grow its food retail business from about R7bn to about R20bn over the next five years. But it’s South African food retailers Shoprite and Pick n’ Pay’s whose sites are firmly set on Africa. Pick n Pay has increased its African growth, using R1,4bn from the sale of Franklins in Australia.

Shoprite, which has only about 123 stores in Africa compared to about 1730 locally, says another 174 stores will be added in Africa next year.  Pick n’ Pay on the other hand is aiming to expand into Malawi and the DRC within the year. The food retailer has over 93 stores in Africa North of South Africa. Zambia and Zimbabwe are on the cards for expansion. Woolworth, not to be outdone has opened 14 stores through its Enterprise Development Programme  in Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania and Mozambique. Woolworths currently has a presence in 12 countries with nearly 60 stores across Africa, excluding South Africa.

Further investment in the African playing field could come in the form of buy-outs of South African food retailers by the likes of Tesco, Carrefour and Metro. Wal-Mart’s consumption of Massmart has already been well publicised.

On a slightly different tack, Don’t Waste Services (DWS), the largest on-site waste management company in South Africa, has publicized their intention to open affiliates in Botswana, Kenya, Zambia, Mauritius and Swaziland. The company – is active in the mining, retail, hospitality, healthcare and large industry markets and currently provides waste minimisation services to 300 corporate clients across their portfolios of sites. Having recently expanded into Mauritius, the company is keen to duplicate their successful model in other African countries.

On the real estate front JHI Properties Zimbabwe has added another 15 properties to its portfolio of over 50 since it is to manage unlisted property investment fund, Ascendant Property Fund (APF). JHI has already expanded from its South African home base into Zambia, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Nigeria. This further expansion comes as Zimbabwe is experiencing exceptional growth in the retail market at a rate of some nine per cent plus year on year. APF CEO Kura Chihota anticipates actively pursuing growth in Zimbabwe. “With Zimbabwe’s anticipated economic growth rate of nine per cent per annum, prospects look promising.” said Chihota recently.

JHI Properties was also appointed as the leasing agents for Joina City, a new upmarket ‘urban city’ in Harare incorporating four floors of retail with 18 floors of offices. Anchor tenants include big South Africa names Spar and Edgars.

Bringing us to Bigan. Bigan, that brought us Mombela Stadium in Nelspruit, Olievehotbosch Ministerial housing projects, the Oliver Tambo International Pier Project and ESKOM Coal Hauleage Road Repair, is negotiating partnering with Ghanaian real estate companies to build affordable houses for the poor and middle income earners.

Ghana’s housing deficit stands at about 1.5 million units. Bigan believes it has the capacity to deliver and help reduce Ghana’s housing deficit. Based on their experience in South Africa, Bigan’s Emmanuel Kere believes that the company can “support not only the (housing) sector in Ghana but infrastructure development in general.”

Bigan claims to build 30 000 houses in South Africa annually and has a lot to offer Ghanaian companies. Chairman of Bigen Africa, Dr Iraj Abedian said that the company was attracted to Ghana because of the country’s stable political environment and friendly business atmosphere. Bigan makes no apology that it intends to use Ghana as a springboard to launch operations into Senegal, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

The South African government is not exempt from taking an active role in the scramble for Africa either. The Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which manages over a trillion rand on behalf of civil servants, which accounts for 10% of SA’s JSE market capitalisation, is looking for potential private equity partners.  10% of the portfolio is to be invested outside South Africa, R50 billion is reserved for African investment.  60% of that, about R30 billion, will go to private equity according to PIC CEO Elias Masilela in an interview with Reuters. The PIC is likely to be a player in infrastructure investments as countries on the continent build and revamp their roads, dams, hospitals and power stations, he said.

Public Investment Corporation which has a presence in 18 African countries weighs in on infrastructure. In an interview with Goldman Sachs’s Hugo Scott-Gall, Sim Tshabalala deputy CEO of the Standard Bank Group said: “in most of sub-Saharan Africa infrastructure has all but collapsed, or is limited. It has to be rebuilt, so there are massive opportunities in project finance. A lot of infrastructure will be refurbished, mainly with support from the Brazilians and the Chinese. The link we have with ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) also helps us identify opportunities and execute on them. In our case, ICBC is a 20% shareholder.”

Standard Bank, as a South African player in the African market has positioned itself well as a go between or conduit for other BRICs partners wanting to interface with the continent. Standard Bank has a cooperation agreement for example, to identify Chinese corporates and SOE (State owned enterprises) that are looking for opportunities on the continent.

Standard Bank has its work cut out for it as Intermediaries for foreign capital since it is estimated that Africa needs about US$90 billion a year to deal with its infrastructure backlog and currently is raising about US$70 billion. This is coming from a combination of sources: taxes, the banking system, and a large amounts coming from outside – risk capital. The banking system in individual African countries does not have the capacity to fund all of the necessary infrastructure activities, so there will be a lot of reliance on international capital markets and the international banking system.

Standard Bank is not alone in its growing presence in Africa, ABSA has received regulatory approval to start a greenfield insurance business in Zambia, bringing to four the number of sub-Saharan countries where the Barclays-owned bank will have insurance operations.  First National Bank (FNB) has revealed plans to invest nearly R2bn over the next 12 months as SA’s third-largest bank by customer numbers, to expand its footprint in SA and Africa. It is believed to be considering an acquisition in Nigeria and has sent scouting missions to Ghana. The bank, which operates in eight countries in Africa including SA, has about 7 -million customers in SA and 1,1-million in Africa. FNB Tanzania was its most recent addition, while its Zambian unit has already announced plans to have a nationwide branch network by 2016.

There’s no doubt that some South African companies are viewing Africa with a greater sense of urgency. The European Union’s financial troubles have revealed South Africa’s vulnerability to European troubles. More than 25% of South Africa’s bilateral trade is from the EU. If GDP in Europe declines that indicates fewer goods being shipped from Africa. This does not bode well for South Africa. Expansion and investment into Africa can broaden South Africa’s horizons not to mention its vulnerability.

But in the words of Standard Bank’s Sim Tshabalala: “As a South African I would love to believe in the sustainability of the country’s national competitive advantage as an entry point to the African continent. Increasingly, people are able to go directly to Kenya and Nigeria, for example, without going through South Africa, because these countries are building the necessary hard infrastructure and the required financial and legal infrastructure.”

So it seems that South Africa’s competitive advantage is diminishing as the rest of the continent develops. In the meantime many companies are seeing the gap and heading into the fray. It seems that the future really is now.

It Takes Two to Tango: Who’s dancing with corrupt public works officials?

So Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi is hard at work stopping the haemorrhaging of funds and the corruption of officials in his floundering department. The dysfunctionality is rife and the mismanagement is astonishing. Corruption is under every leaf. But doesn’t it take two to tango? Who’s fingering private enterprise?

 

As anyone will recall from sibling rivalry that a game of “he did it-she did it” achieves little. But shouldn’t we be looking into who the protagonists are in the Public Works corruption saga? Apart from the guilty government officials, there’s someone else playing a significant role in this debacle.

 

Looking outside of this particular saga for a moment and at the infamous Arms Deal, lots of accusations and uninvestigated claims abound about government officials as far up as our own President. All worthy of answers and unbiased investigation – may truth prevail. Call it reactionary if you like or perhaps it’s a distraction but is it possible we could learn some of the truth by examining those who actually offered the bribes: those squeaky clean Europeans. After all there’s a stereo-type to maintain: isn’t corruption an African problem not a European problem?

 

Back to the South African government department of Public Works, the focus of attention is squarely on the officials. This is understandable, good and right. But there is a nameless faceless mass out there that has to be doing the corrupting, offering the bribes and greasing the wheels. Roux Shabangu would be an exception since he hasn’t managed to escape the glare of public media attention.

 

This is not to suggest yet another Third Force conspiracy either and one is not unaware that the corrupt historically have drawn more attention than the corruptor. But this should not negate zeal for the exposure of both parties in corruption, for the sake of weeding it out.

 

What now of the 22 irregular leases in Jo’burg involving payments of R64m, currently under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit? Let’s hope that not just the crooked officials are exposed but their private enterprise partners as well.

 

Nxesi is reported to have said: “We have instructed our lawyers to approach the high court to nullify these irregular lease agreements and institute action against whoever unduly benefited.” This is a start.

 

Public Works manages 1 277 leases on behalf of the SAPS. A task team of SAPS and Public Works officials are now investigating those too. Let’s see everyone come out into the light when those rocks are turned over. No protection for tango partners.

 

Which bring us to consider one of the consequences in the case of crooked leases: the inflated rates of the leases. Mr Nxesi said fraudulent and irregular leases, where the state paid exorbitant prices for leasing buildings, were so numerous that the property market in some areas had been permanently distorted! The knock on effect to the property industry is obvious.

 

Consider this next time you tut tut those wicked, naughty corrupt government officials. Someone from private enterprise is dancing the tango too. Before they shrink back into the shadows ask the question who’s doing the corrupting and how come they’re getting a free pass?

 

Onshoring in the USA with notes for South Africa

Onshoring is seeing a resurgence in manufacturing in the United States. The knock on effect for industrial and commercial real estate is debatable. What lessons, if any, are there for the South African market?

 

Firms like Ford, Carlisle Tire and Wheel Company, Otis Elevators, General Electric and Whirlpool have relocated some jobs back to the U.S. or opted to upgrade existing U.S. plants rather than resort to off-shore operations. This is in the wake of the World Financial Crisis.

 

There is some political incentive; it may be the patriotic thing to keep manufacturing plants at home. But in the end it’s the big buck that cracks the whip.  In June 2010 Master Lock a world player in the manufacture of security products, brought over one hundred jobs home that had been previously off-shored.

 

US President Barak Obama used the ‘on-shoring’ of the Master Lock factory in Milwaukee to highlight the Democrats Blueprint for an America Built to Last. The ‘blueprint’ is essentially an incentive scheme for the on-going creation of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Coupled with this is the removal of deductions for offshoring jobs overseas. The political message is clear.

 

Heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar is opening a giant facility in Victoria, Texas, in the process of shifting production from Japan back to the U.S. In February, the firm announced it would also shutter a 62-year-old plant in London, Ontario – Canada that makes locomotives and move production to Muncie, Indiana.  Jumping on the bandwagon is Japanese carmaker Honda which is investing $98 million in its largest vehicle engine plant in Anna, Ohio. A significant number of firms have moved some jobs back to the U.S. or opted to upgrade U.S. plants rather than resort to off-shore operations. So there is significant movement on the manufacturing landscape.

 

In some cases, firms are actually reopening mothballed factories. In others, firms surveying the landscape have opted to open plants in states within the U.S. with the lowest labour costs and unionization rates. Something South African corporates wouldn’t be able relate to given the uniformity of unionisation across the country’s provinces.

 

In South Africa labour remains arguably at acceptable levels in the manufacturing industry – for example we aren’t seeing PE’s motor manufacturing plants moving to Botswana due to unmanageable wage demands. South Africa’s Chemicals and the Agriprocessing industries are geographically anchored and aren’t able to be moved offshore. So labour in those industries is unlikely to fear offshoring any time soon.

 

Onshoring in the US though has contributed to a steady revival in manufacturing jobs within the U.S. since mid-2010. Employment in the sector is expanding at an annual pace of approximately two per cent. But manufacturing as a percentage of the U.S. workforce will continue to fair lower down the scale since higher productivity is one of the draw cards for Onshoring.

 

Higher productivity means fewer workers producing the same amount of goods. Without appearing cynical, it must be said that this would not bode well with labour in South Africa since it would seem more desirable to have greater numbers employed to produce the same amount of goods for the sake of employment figures. But since there is no such incentive in South Africa onshoring is not a relevant dynamic in the economy for that reason. There is also the migrant labour dynamic to consider.

But there are lessons to be learned from ‘the equation’ used by U.S. corporates when it comes to deciding on the location of new factories. Factors weighed include: shipping costs and real estate; infrastructure and supply chain competence; cost, quality and obtainability of labour; proximity to suppliers and customers; taxes and incentives.

 

Previously, cheap labour and shipping costs clinched it for China and other emerging countries. However the labour market in those same countries is not putting up with the pay and conditions heretofore endured. Labour costs in China for example have risen on average almost 20 per cent per year over recent years. The result is that there’s a higher premium to pay. Similarly volatile oil prices are being felt on the transportation leg. Some estimates have transportation rising 20 to 25 per cent in the next three years!

 

But back to labour, in the U.S. over the previous four decades, productivity has hit the roof. Output per worker in the manufacturing sector has grown 136 per cent since 1987. According to William Strauss, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, what it took 1,000 workers to do in 1960 requires only 184 workers today. In 2005 goods produced in China and shipped to the U.S. were 22 per cent cheaper than products made in the United States. By the end of 2008, the price gap had dropped to just 5.5 per cent.

 

Despite productivity gains, the manufacturing sector has stopped losing jobs, instead there have been gains. Hitting rock bottom at approximately 11.5 million workers in January of 2010, the U.S. market has added 421,000 new manufacturing jobs. The sector is growing at an average annual rate of about two per cent, the fastest rate of expansion since the mid-1990s.

 

A lesson for South Africa is that U.S. analysts believe that production never really disappeared. But there are factors that are strengthening it, including a lowering of wages for manufacturing employees. Real hourly wages for U.S. manufacturing employees have remained flat since 1970. In 2000 average wages were $14.35 an hour in 1970 and $14.63 in 2009, according to the U.S.’s Bureau of Labour Statistics. Would S.A. unions put up with that?  Could S.A. workers settle for less for the sake of keeping their jobs and still increase productivity?

 

Then there’s the issue of what is referred to in the U.S. as ‘right-to-work’. This legislation prohibits agreements between unions and employers to create “closed shops” and limits auto-payment of union dues. Closed shops are workplaces where every employee must belong to the union as a condition of employment. It could be argued that in S.A. the social/political pressure makes it impossible for such legislation to be considered or even at ground level, enacted.

 

Currently, 23 U.S. states have some sort of right-to-work laws in place and that’s where the plants are being reopened or built.

 

The difference in quality of U.S. labour is a factor too. “Many of the manufacturers moving back from Asia and India say the quality control there is atrocious,” says K.C. Conway, executive managing director of market analytics with Colliers International. “We have quality control, a well-trained work force. It’s much more robust here than in Asia.” South African manufacturing labour quality seems to vary in reputation across the board but excels in the automotive and agriprocessing industries for example. There doesn’t seem much to tempt local manufacturers to move to Lesotho or Swaziland for example since workers from those and other Southern African countries populate our workforce anyway.

 

Both the U.S.’s President Obama and S.A.’s President Zuma have spoken much about the improvement of infrastructure. In President Zuma’s case there has been large allocations to infrastructural improvement in this year’s budget. Theoretically this should reduce the cost of moving goods around the country. Obama has proposed $476 billion through 2018 on highways, bridges and mass transit projects for example.

 

In overview one school of thought is that U.S. manufacturing has never really gone away. The U.S. produced 18.2 per cent of all goods globally in 2010, of course it used to be so much more, and China has surpassed the U.S.  2010 marked the first year since the late 1800s in which the U.S. was not the largest producer. China, with $1.92 trillion in manufacturing output has taken the title.

 

Along these lines, one is pointed to the fact that although it’s true that the majority of consumer goods are produced in China, the U.S. specialises in heavy machinery and goods that are the product of highly-skilled labour. Automobiles, airplanes, aerospace components and pharmaceuticals are all divisions where the U.S. retains a hefty share of world production.

 

In the final analysis the assumption we may make is that the U.S. commercial real estate industry should be strengthened by on-shoring though not as dramatically as we may be tempted to conclude. The total industrial market vacancy rate stood at 9.5 per cent at the end of the fourth quarter of 2011. It declined in every quarter of 2011 and is down a full percentage point from its recessionary peak of 10.5 per cent at the beginning of 2010. For flex space, vacancies are a bit higher—12.6 per cent at the end of the fourth quarter—but there too the rate has declined from a peak of around 14 per cent in 2010. Manufacturing space tends to be very specialized and often manufacturing companies build their own buildings and they don’t need to buy the space that existed previously. The exceptions to this might be smaller secondary and tertiary suppliers that support larger manufacturers. Those kinds of firms tend to locate in flex space.

 

Although South Africa doesn’t find itself in an on-shoring situation the lessons above remain for us to observe. Manufacturing activity in South Africa rose to a two-year high last quarter, fanning expectations that growth in the economy’s second-biggest sector is gaining impetus. This surpassed those recorded among South Africa’s main trade partners during the same quarter. Manufacturing accounts for 15% of South Africa’s economic output and 13% of formal employment. In the fourth quarter of last year, it recovered from a recession in the previous two quarters, expanding by 4,2%, according to official data. The knock on effect on industrial and commercial property is presumed and likely but can be unreliable and inaccurate to monitor.

Madonsela, Municipalities and Money

The impression one gets from press releases and other statements made by South African politicians is that the crumbling of local infrastructure and lack of service delivery is a recent phenomenon. But the writing has been on the wall for a long time. How will warnings today effect matters tomorrow. The on-going decline of municipal management does not bode well for investment, after all, what incentive is there. Then there is the likes of the Public Protector stepping in these days – is there hope?

You’ll be forgiven for thinking this is a recent statement: “The investigation has shown that South Africa has many instances of adequate municipal infrastructure and service delivery, but also an increasing proportion of deteriorating infrastructure, together with poor and often unacceptable quality of services.  Similarly, while some municipalities have exemplary practices in place in respect of many of the aspects of infrastructure maintenance, gross shortfalls in management policies and practice exist in many municipalities. “Such were the mild and restrained findings of a CSIR report in 2006.

Back in 2009 Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka announced that a grand turnaround strategy would be implemented in 2010 to improve national oversight of municipalities. “We want to build a local government that is efficient, effective, responsive and accountable” he intoned. After much huffing and puffing, think tanks, discussion groups, proposals, counterproposals, conferences, debates and many working lunches no doubt it’s uncertain what was actually done about municipalities.

By early 2011 a report was presented to the Cabinet by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on the attributes of municipal financial management and how it had discovered that at least 35% of municipalities in South Africa needed intervention from national government to carry them. By doing so, the intention would be, to try and snuff out unauthorised and wasteful expenditure.

The report was the most damning evidence yet. It recommended that urgent intervention was needed in at least 35% of municipalities because of poor financial management, weak governance and poor leadership.  The report revealed that 107 municipalities and two municipal entities accounted for R5-billion in unauthorised expenditure of which R1,1-billion had subsequently been written off. Moreover, 168 municipalities and 22 municipal entities had been responsible for irregular expenditure amounting to R4,1-billion.

The report noted that there was a “shocking” rise in the number of municipalities that are guilty of unauthorised, irregular or wasteful expenditure.

Back to 2006, to quote the old CSIR report: “It is clear that many municipalities will not be able to improve their maintenance policies and practices without strong direction and assistance from national government.  If municipal infrastructure maintenance is to be adequate, a great deal needs to be done.”

Enter Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela who on Wednesday 18th of April 2012 visited the Nala Municipality in the Free State province where she inspected a number of homes affected by a dysfunctional sewage system, a sewage pump that is not working and a purification plant that has not been working for weeks.

Madonsela’s responded to an invitation by representatives of residents complaining that their voices had not been heard by the Municipality or other state institutions. The focus: the failure to implement a forensic report conducted by a reputable private firm, in which several findings on maladministration were made and individuals blamed for improper conduct.

Madonsela revealed that despite a partial implementation of the report she would request information on the state of implementation of the rest of the report. It was further agreed with the representatives that the public protector would ensure full accountability by all persons implicated in the report, whether they were officials or office bearers in the municipality or service providers who allegedly defrauded the municipality by claiming and collecting fees for work not done.

After this various sites were visited including an unfinished RDP settlement, an open sewerage dam, a home still serviced by the bucket system and a broken sewage pump as well as a purification plant that has allegedly not been working for weeks. The Public Protector met with residents that had spontaneously gathered to hear from her and her team regarding her plans “to restore their dignity and ensure justice.”

In the press release was this much anticipated but often heard remark: “The Public Protector undertakes to work with the municipality, the province and national government to find answers and to ensure that services are urgently restored to the community.” Unlike many who have gone before her Adv Thuli Madonsela has an excellent track record for keeping her promises and doing what she says. Don’t mess with this Madonsela, ask SAPS.

But it’s a worrying state of affairs when the country’s Public Protector has to physically visit Nala Municipality down in the ‘Maize Triangle’ to set in motion a process that involves the intervention of the Freestate MEC for Human Settlements to restore basic services to a rural community that should otherwise be able to manage itself. How thinly spread do we want our Public Protector to be given the amount of defaulting municipalities we have.

From an investment point of view, we have an effective and willing Public Protector who is not above grievances brought by rural communities far from the ivory towers of high office.  But beware of where you put your money, earlier in the year a treasury report commented that local government finances had deteriorated significantly over the past four years and the “increasingly visible” failures were harming service delivery.

Municipalities are a vital conduit for service delivery, their lack of performance has resulted in political recoils, as seen in the run-up to last year’s local government elections. The report — on the state of local finances and financial management as at June 30 last year — said the slide in municipal finances had decreased, but they were still not showing signs of health and national and provincial government needed to mediate. Symptoms of danger included negative cash balances; the high level of creditors and debtors; the overspending of operating budgets and under spending of capital budgets.

A lack of service delivery has seen greater numbers embracing civil disobedience. With nothing to lose many people have taken to the streets in communities where there has been a breakdown of municipal services. A not so obviously apparent result of this is the flight of investment from these same communities. This does not fair well for property values in these areas either.

Currently, the news from Treasury is that only 30 municipalities (compared to 65 last year) had cash reserves in excess of three months and 114 (98 last year) had cash for less than one month. Municipalities consistently delay the payment of creditors because of a lack of cash. But maddeningly generous bonuses are still the norm, similarly so is the spending on a range of non-priority items and programmes.

The failure by mayors and councils to apply principles of good governance in their communities is destroying hope in the prospect of a rise in the value of property and the potential for attracting investment, ultimately the future overall value will diminish unless Adv. Madonsela and company represent a wave of high level activism heretofore unseen.