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International lenders warn on capacity constraints in Africa but remain bullish on pro-investor and trade trends

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International lenders warn on capacity constraints in Africa but remain bullish on pro-investor and trade trends

Global and African financial heads identified country risk as the biggest challenge to their ability to lend more to African countries

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast- Global and African financial heads identified country risk as the biggest challenge to their ability to lend more to African countries. Speaking in Abidjan during a one-day forum on investment risks in Africa hosted by the African Trade Insurance Agency (ATI) (www.ATI-aca.org), experts acknowledged that the abundance of current liquidity in the market did nothing to alleviate the capacity constraints faced by most banks when doing business in Africa.

Lenders are bound by regulations that prevent them from lending significant amounts to sub-investment grade sovereigns, which is the case for most African countries.  Institutions such as ATI that can offer investment insurance can help to mitigate the risks and thereby bring added lending and investment capacity to African markets. Without an increased ceiling in limits, international lenders will continue to be constrained on the amounts they are able to lend both at the sovereign and corporate levels.

Experts attending the forum also noted positive movements in countries such as Ghana and Senegal for instance, which were recently put on positive watch by the rating agency S&P. This was largely based on the dividends anticipated from key infrastructure developments and investor-friendly policies. In Senegal, for example, the country has restructured its commercial laws, implemented a Public Private Partnership law that ensures all signed public contracts in the oil and gas sector are published and created a department of competition tasked with working hand in hand with investors.

Risk analysis experts at the conference cited Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe as countries to watch in the coming months based on strong reserves in Botswana, political transitions in the case of Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, a strategy to transform its economy into a services hub in the case of Rwanda, and creating an enabling environment to attract investors in the case of Côte d’Ivoire.

Most government representatives at the meeting also noted their countries efforts to ramp up value addition in the agriculture sector along with an emphasis on removing barriers to trade within the continent. Jean-Louis Ekra, the former President of Afreximbank observed that Africa is in fact moving in a different direction than the current protectionist tendencies of Western countries. In contrast, Africa is uniting under the banner of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will become the world’s largest trade area.

While participants agreed that the risk perception in Africa is typically greater than the on-the-ground reality, they also recognized that making Africa less risky would require a concerted focus aimed at improving the overall business environment in order to address the risks that do exist.  According to a recent Moody’s report, 40 to 50% of defaults in developing markets are directly linked to country risks. During the forum, panellists discussed low-cost solutions that could help countries reduce their risk including ensuring fair adherence to existing regulations.

“One of our roles at ATI is to educate governments to make them aware of the elements that international investors consider in their assessment of country risks. If countries are made aware that any drastic changes they make to legislation, for instance, could be a key political risk factor, they may make better choices and create more fertile environments for the private sector,” commented John Lentaigne, ATI’s Chief Underwriting Officer. He added that “a stable investment climate can be demonstrably and directly linked to growth.”

Despite Africa’s perceived risks, ECGC, India’s export credit agency and international broker, BPL Global, who have a combined USD142 billion worth of exposures, noted a relatively low claims and reasonable recovery experience in Africa. Out of BPL’s USD42 billion in current exposures which is insured with international investment risk providers 8 billion of this exposure is in Africa, where the company has historically recorded USD230 million in claims of which USD123 million has subsequently been recovered.

International lenders and insurers commented on the importance of ATI’s participation to make projects bankable through its preferred creditor status and relationships with African governments. This was seen as ATI’s core value proposition.

In his address to participants, Pierre Guislain the Vice-President responsible for Private Sector, Infrastructure and Industrialization of the African Development Bank noted the Bank’s commitment to transform the relationship with ATI into a strategic partnership that can leverage its reach and help countries accelerate regional integration.

ATI, a multilateral investment and trade credit insurer posted record results in 2017 for the sixth consecutive year with USD10 million in profits representing a 55% increase over 2016 and USD2.4 billion in gross exposures.

SPEAKERS AT ATI’s 5TH ANNUAL INVESTOR ROUNDTABLE

  • Taiwo Adeniji, Sr. Director Investment Group, Africa Finance Corporation
  • Dr. Robert Besseling, Executive Director, EXX Africa
  • Dr. Yohannes Ayalew Birru, Executive Director of the Ethiopian Development Research Institute (EDRI) and Chairman of the Board of Directors, ATI (Ethiopia)
  • Jean-Louis Ekra, Former President, Afreximbank (Côte d’Ivoire)
  • Olivier Eweck, Director, Syndication Department, African Development Bank
  • Muhamet Bamba Fall, Associate Director and Chief Underwriter in the Operations Group, MIGA
  • Nisrin Hala, Head of Africa Desk, SMBC
  • Stuart Hulks, Executive VP, Distribution & Syndication, Standard Bank
  • Jean- Maryam Khosrowshahi, Managing Director, Head of CEEMEA Sovereign DCM – Deutsche Bank  (UK)
  • Manuel López, Managing Director, Global Bank Surety Syndication Leader International Surety Practice, Credit Specialties, Marsh
  • Brunno Maradei, Senior Investment Officer, European Investment Bank
  • Christopher Marks, Managing Director & Head of Emerging Markets, EMEA, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG)
  • Geetha Muralidhar, Chairman-cum-Managing Director, ECGC Limited
  • Gardner Rusike, Associate Director, Sovereign Ratings International Public Finance, S&P Global Ratings
  • Jan Martin Witte, Director, KfW South Africa
  • Stanislas Zézé, Chairman of Bloomfield Investments (SME credit Agency in West Africa)

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of African Trade Insurance Agency (ATI).

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Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output

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Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output 1

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices fell from recent highs for a second day on Friday as Texas energy firms began to prepare for restarting oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather.

Brent crude futures were down $1.16, or 1.8%, to $62.77 per barrel, by 1150 GMT, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $1.42, or 2.4%, to $59.10 a barrel.

Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to analysts.

Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.

However, firms in the region on Friday were expected to prepare for production restarts as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.

“The market was ripe for a correction and signs of the power and overall energy situation starting to normalise in Texas provided the necessary trigger,” said Vandana Hari, energy analyst at Vanda Insights.

Oil fell despite a surprise fall in U.S. crude stockpiles in the week to Feb. 12, before the freeze. Inventories fell by 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]

The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

While the thawing relations could raise the prospect of reversing sanctions imposed by the previous U.S. administration, analysts did not expect Iranian oil sanctions to be lifted anytime soon.

“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon said.

(Additional reporting by Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; editing by Jason Neely)

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Analysis: Carmakers wake up to new pecking order as chip crunch intensifies

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Analysis: Carmakers wake up to new pecking order as chip crunch intensifies 2

By Douglas Busvine and Christoph Steitz

BERLIN (Reuters) – The semiconductor crunch that has battered the auto sector leaves carmakers with a stark choice: pay up, stock up or risk getting stuck on the sidelines as chipmakers focus on more lucrative business elsewhere.

Car manufacturers including Volkswagen, Ford and General Motors have cut output as the chip market was swept clean by makers of consumer electronics such as smartphones – the chip industry’s preferred customers because they buy more advanced, higher-margin chips.

The semiconductor shortage – over $800 worth of silicon is packed into a modern electric vehicle – has exposed the disconnect between an auto industry spoilt by decades of just-in-time deliveries and an electronics industry supply chain it can no longer bend to its will.

“The car sector has been used to the fact that the whole supply chain is centred around cars,” said McKinsey partner Ondrej Burkacky. “What has been overlooked is that semiconductor makers actually do have an alternative.”

Automakers are responding to the shortage by lobbying governments to subsidize the construction of more chip-making capacity.

In Germany, Volkswagen has pointed the finger at suppliers, saying it gave them timely warning last April – when much global car production was idled due to the coronavirus pandemic – that it expected demand to recover strongly in the second half of the year.

That complaint by the world’s No.2 volume carmaker cuts little ice with chipmakers, who say the auto industry is both quick to cancel orders in a slump and to demand investment in new production in a recovery.

“Last year we had to furlough staff and bear the cost of carrying idle capacity,” said a source at one European semiconductor maker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“If the carmakers are asking us to invest in new capacity, can they please tell us who will pay for that idle capacity in the next downturn?”

LOW-TECH CUSTOMER

The auto industry spends around $40 billion a year on chips – about a tenth of the global market. By comparison, Apple spends more on chips just to make its iPhones, Mirabaud tech analyst Neil Campling reckons.

Moreover, the chips used in cars tend to be basic products such as micro controllers made under contract at older foundries – hardly the leading-edge production technology in which chipmakers would be willing to invest.

“The suppliers are saying: ‘If we continue to produce this stuff there is nowhere else for it to go. Sony isn’t going to use it for a Playstation 5 or Apple for its next iPhone’,” said Asif Anwar at Strategy Analytics.

Chipmakers were surprised by the panicked reaction of the German car industry, which persuaded Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to write a letter in January to his counterpart in Taiwan to ask its semiconductor makers to supply more chips.

No extra supplies were forthcoming, with one German industry source joking that the Americans stood a better chance of getting more chips from Taiwan because they could at least park an aircraft carrier off the coast – referring to the ability of the United States to project power in Asia.

Closer to home, a source at another European chipmaker expressed disbelief at the poor understanding at one carmaker of how it operates.

“We got a call from one auto maker that was desperate for supply. They said: Why don’t you run a night shift to increase production?” this person said.

“What they didn’t understand is that we have been running a night shift since the beginning.”

NO QUICK FIX

While Infineon, the leading supplier of chips to the global auto industry, and Robert Bosch, the top ‘Tier 1’ parts supplier, both plan to commission new chip plants this year, there is little chance of supply shortages easing soon.

Specialist chipmakers like Infineon outsource some production of automotive chips to contract manufacturers led by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), but the Asian foundries are currently prioritising high-end electronics makers as they come up against capacity constraints.

Over the longer term, the relationship between chip makers and the car industry will become closer as electric vehicles are more widely adopted and features such as assisted and autonomous driving develop, requiring more advanced chips.

But, in the short term, there is no quick fix for the lack of chip supply: IHS Markit estimates that the time it takes to deliver a microcontroller has doubled to 26 weeks and shortages will only bottom out in March.

That puts the production of 1 million light vehicles at risk in the first quarter, says IHS Markit. European chip industry executives and analysts agree that supply will not catch up with demand until later in the year.

Chip shortages are having a “snowball effect” as auto makers idle some capacity to prioritize building profitable models, said Anwar at Strategy Analytics, who forecasts a drop in car production in Europe and North America of 5%-10% in 2021.

The head of Franco-Italian chipmaker STMicroelectronics, Jean-Marc Chery, forecasts capacity constraints will affect carmakers until mid-year.

“Up to the end of the second quarter, the industry will have to manage at the lean inventory level,” Chery told a recent Goldman Sachs conference.

(Douglas Busvine from Berlin and Christoph Steitz from Frankfurt; Additional reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gilles Gillaume in Paris; Editing by Susan Fenton)

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Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets

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Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets 3

By Tommy Wilkes

LONDON (Reuters) – The Australian dollar rose to near a three-year high and the British pound scaled $1.40 for the first time since 2018 on optimism about economic rebounds in the two countries and after the U.S. dollar was knocked by disappointing jobs data.

The U.S. currency had been rising in recent days as a jump in Treasury yields on the back of the so-called reflation trade drew investors. But an unexpected increase in U.S. weekly jobless claims soured the economic outlook and sent the dollar lower overnight.

On Friday it traded down 0.3% against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index at 90.309.

The Aussie rose 0.8% to $0.784, its highest since March 2018. The currency, which is closely linked to commodity prices and the outlook for global growth, has been helped by a recent rally in commodity prices.

The New Zealand dollar also gained, and was not far off a more than two-year high, while the Canadian dollar rose too.

Sterling rose to $1.4009 on Friday, an almost three-year high amid Britain’s aggressive vaccination programme.

Given the size of Britain’s vital services sector, analysts say the faster it can reopen the economy, the better for the currency. Sterling was also helped by better-than-expected purchasing managers index flash survey data for February.

The U.S. dollar has been weighed down by a string of soft labour data, even as other indicators have shown resilience, and as President Joe Biden’s pandemic relief efforts take shape, including a proposed $1.9 trillion spending package.

Despite the recent rise in U.S. yields, many analysts think they won’t climb too much higher, limiting the benefit for the dollar.

“Our view remains that the Fed will hold the line and remain very cautious about tapering asset purchases. We think it will keep communicating that tightening is very far off, which should dampen pro-dollar sentiment,” said UBS Global Wealth Management strategist Gaétan Peroux and analyst Tilmann Kolb.

ING analysts said “the rise in rates will be self-regulating, meaning the dollar need not correct too much higher”.

They see the greenback index trading down to the 90.10 to 91.05 range.

U.S. dollar

Aussie and sterling hit multi-year highs on recovery bets 4

The euro rose 0.4% to $1.2134. The single currency showed little reaction to purchasing manager index data, which showed a slowdown in business activity in February. However, factories had their busiest month in three years, buoying sentiment.

The dollar bought 105.39 yen, down 0.3% and a continued retreat from the five-month high of 106.225 reached Wednesday.

(Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char)

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