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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.

Cape Town Office Vacancies- Today and Tomorrow

Some would say that we build for tomorrow not for today. For some time now Cape Town CBD has seen few new construction projects and given the latest office vacancy, figures that may be just as well.

Looking at the latest SA Property Owners Association (SAPOA) office vacancy survey for 2011 Capet Town’s six out of seven nodes face a trend of growing vacancies for the previous quarter. The survey shows the amount of vacant space is also rising in most decentralised office markets.

For combined Premier A and B grade offices:
Cape Town CBD is at 10.5% up from 9.7%.
In the Southern Suburbs: Claremont is at 13.7%; Rondebosch & Newlands 7.3%.
In Tygerberg, the Bellville vacancy average is 9.4% whereas a year ago it was 6%.
Office vacancy around the broader V&A Waterfront precinct is at 6.9 per cent.
Pinelands is at around 3.4%. Century City however has dropped over the previous year to 8.8% from 10.5%.
Here development activity has increased dramatically, with works on the Estuaries 2, Park Lane and the Bridgeways Precinct currently in progress.

There is some evidence that tenants have attempted to reduce their rental bill by securing cheaper space. This may have played a role in underpinning the demand for affordable CBD space.

Looking at smaller business owners, it may be that many people have gone back home to set up office in the garage – back to cottage-work environments away from the big city.

The point that vacancy rates are growing in Cape Town should not come as a shock. While weakening economic circumstances reduce the demand for space and increase vacancy rates, it is equally important to consider the effect that lagging development activity has on the market. Vacancy rates rise and fall because development activity is often poorly co-ordinated with demand.

Of course an obvious down side for property owners is that a rise in vacancy rates also has the potential to increase operating costs. In an environment of rising vacancy rates, property owners have little choice but to absorb operating costs that would normally be passed on to tenants. This issue has become particularly pertinent to South African property owners in general who have experienced a significant rise in electricity costs which would normally be passed on to tenants.

But the are some people that are looking ahead at the future of space in Cape Town with a steady confidence in the long term office market. In the Clock Tower precinct for example, Allan Gray is making its presence felt with a confidence inspiring project.

The new Allan Gray building is a R1 billion mixed use complex and claims to be one of Cape Town’s first Green buildings. The development is the biggest at the V&A Waterfront since the state-owned Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and Growthpoint Properties bought the iconic landmark for R9.7bn earlier in 2011.

Another office development worth mentioning is the new Portside building which will be the provincial headquarters of FirstRand’s three principle divisions: FNB, Wesbank and RMB. There will also be  an additional 25 000m² of prime space up for grabs for leasing to corporate and retail tenants. The project on the corner of Buitengracht Street and Hans Strijdom Avenue is a partnership between First Rand and Old Mutual, it should see completion by 2014. This bodes well for the precinct buoying up confidence in the area.

Other projects in Cape Town in the near future would include the new 20 storey building on Bree Street that will host legal offices and present more office space to fill. Currently underway is the 18 storey The Mirage hotel and mixed use development that should be complete by 2013.  Cape Town International Convention Centre, which includes new convention space, office space, apartments, as well as a hospital is also on the cards. By the time these projects mature the hope is that the world will be a friendlier place for landlords.

Worth noting is that there are also some up sides to the economic downturn effects. The vacancy trend has created some opportunities for tenants. Some companies have felt the confidence to shelve elaborate expansion plans and others who were facing relocation now have negotiating space. Landlords are far more willing to exercise a little creativity, offering concessions and making opportunities available that would not otherwise have been available in a low vacancy market.

So as long as Cape Town keeps its head down building for tomorrow’s prospective tenants and looking after the one’s it currently has, it should be able to weather this storm.