While frontier markets in Africa are not yet the new Brazil, let alone the new South Korea, there are ample reasons to be optimistic about the economic resurgence in many African countries.
- The number of armed conflicts in Africa has dropped from 20 in 1999 to 5 today. Granted, that’s non-zero, and the human losses in the remaining fighting is horrific and unacceptable, but there is significant and largely unheralded change.
- Real GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) averaged 4.1% from 1997-2002, and has since risen to 6.6%
- Real incomes are rising, with GDP per capita hitting 4.6% in SSA in 2007.
- Africa has lower inflation, higher FX reserves, and more FDI than did Asian emerging markets in 1980 — and that worked out okay.
- We’re seeing bond duration extension, with government bond yield curves now stretching out to 10- and 15-years in some countries, which is a boon to project financing.
The obvious question, of course: How do you track and invest in African markets? The fast answer is, it isn’t yet as easy as it should be. Yes, there are some frontier markets ETFs, including the just-launched Claymore/BNY Mellon Frontier Markets ETF, or the SSGA Emerging Middle East and Africa ETF, but they all skew heavily toward Eastern Europe and the Middle East, allocating precious little to continental Africa (outside South Africa, which hardly qualifies as a frontier market).
Nevertheless, there is a race into frontier markets in general this year, and into Africa in particular. Multiple frontier market ETFs and related funds will be showing up soon from PowerShares, Van Eck, and others. It will be worth watching.
African opportunities are being overlooked, Financial Times, June 11, 2008
The Frontier/Middle East ETF Boomlet, Morningstar, June 12, 2008
Claymore wins race to the frontier, IndexUniverse, June 12, 2008