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SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA RISING: CAPTURING THE OPPORTUNITIES

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Florian Witt

An increasing number of investment and trade opportunities are presenting themselves for foreign corporates in sub-Saharan Africa. And while there are risks associated with investing and operating in Africa that cannot be ignored – as is true of any emerging market – it should not mean that the opportunities in the region are overlooked. Florian Witt, Head of Africa at Commerzbank, looks at Africa’s growth and what it means for those looking to do business in the region

Sub-Saharan Africa has shown itself to be remarkably resilient in the face of the global economic crisis. In fact, the region has been growing sustainably for the past decade and is expected to see economic growth of 6 percent this year1. According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), Africa’s economy is growing faster than any other continent in the world.

Florian Witt

Florian Witt

Behind this positive economic growth lies improved political and economic stability in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, which has helped the region rise up and become more resilient to external shocks, such as import and export price volatilities. Other factors helping to kick start the African economy are the recent commodities boom and the burgeoning African middle class, which is generating demand for consumer goods and services, many of which are imported.

And this increased demand for consumer goods imports brings a host of business opportunities for foreign exporters. Indeed, many have already recognised the region’s potential and have established a presence on the continent.

However, not only is there enormous trading potential, there are also opportunities for investment in productivity and manufacturing that could transform the composition of a number of African economies. Indeed, Africa is now beginning to move up the production value chain (evolving from being an extractor of raw materials to a producer of finished products) thanks in part to foreign direct investment and international trade, which is improving resource-processing and manufacturing capabilities. But in order for Africa to keep moving up the value chain, continued investment and imports of specialist equipment and machinery will be needed to develop the continent’s value-added industries.

While the opportunities for doing business in Africa are therefore clear, it is also important that companies understand the risks involved in trading with the heterogeneous region. In this respect, having a global banking partner on side that has strong relationships with the local banks and expert “on-the-ground” knowledge is essential for mitigating these risks.

Seizing the opportunities

Of course, some sub-Saharan African countries have already begun their transition from raw material exporters to producers of value-added products and this process is providing vast opportunities for foreign corporates.

In this respect, Nigeria is an interesting example. For example, the agriculture sector now accounts for around a quarter of Nigeria’s GDP following the recent rebasing of the economy. And the country has wide expanses of arable land that are rich in hydrocarbon, but in order to be able to produce food locally, value-added chains in the form of harvest, storage and transport are required.

The good news is that moves towards building these value-added chains are already underway. For example, construction of the world’s largest fertilizer plant in Nigeria is due to be completed in 2015. The planned gas-to-urea fertilizer plant will cost approximately US$1.2 billion and will be privately financed with foreign companies bidding for the contract. The plant is aimed at transforming Nigeria from a major importer to a key exporter of fertilizer, and is expected to significantly boost agricultural production in the country.

There are also emerging opportunities in Nigeria’s most lucrative sector: oil. This commodity is the driving factor in Nigeria’s economy – accounting for 96 percent of exports and 75 percent of government revenues2 – making it one of the most oil-dependent economies in Africa. However, Nigeria has very few oil refineries, meaning the country is reliant on imports of the by-products of crude oil. Therefore, in order to reduce the country’s exposure to the fluctuations in oil prices, huge investment is needed to boost the country’s refinery output, as well as for oil exploration and development projects.

There’s no doubt that sub-Saharan Africa’s potential is attracting investors who have recognised the strong and sustained economic growth displayed by the continent in recent years – particularly in the fastest-growing African countries such as Nigeria. And it is expected that further foreign direct investment in these countries will help to kick off a higher growth phase.

Understanding the risks

Of course, in sub-Saharan Africa – as with any emerging market – there are risks that go hand in hand with the opportunities. However, the key to reducing exposure to these risks is acknowledging them and taking the right approach to doing business in the country.

For example, corruption remains a large risk factor in sub-Saharan Africa. In this respect, Commerzbank has 60 years’ experience in Africa and has learnt that time can play an essential role in mitigating this risk. While investment in marketing, for example, is required to break into a mature market, such as Germany, in Africa what corporates need to invest is time in order to avoid unethical business practices.

Credit and counterparty risk is also a factor to address. Given the levels of political risk associated with many of Africa’s developing markets and the ‘unknown’ factor when it comes toforeign trade counterparties, letters of credit are still one of the safest ways to mitigate this risk. This trade finance instrument is useful when exporters cannot easily obtain reliable credit information about a foreign buyer – instead passing the risk on to their own advising or confirming bank. This bank can then leverage its local expertise based on its correspondent banking relationships.

In this respect, long-standing relationships with local African banks are important. Commerzbank, for example, works together with approximately 350 sub-Saharan African banks meaning that it has a unique risk appetite for confirming letters of credit issued in the region where other banks may have chosen to withdraw their commitments and are scaling back their correspondent-banking networks to reduce risk.

While the risks of doing business on the continent sometimes seem to be at the forefront of many corporates’ minds, simply ignoring the potential for growth is not advisable. Indeed, with the help of the right local banking partner to navigate the risks, the opportunities for foreign corporates are limitless.

1 Please see Page 3 of Commerzbank’s “Renaissance in Sub-Saharan Africa” study, published in January 2014

2 Please see Page 18 of Commerzbank’s “Renaissance in Sub-Saharan Africa” study, published in January 2014

Investing

Is It The Right Time To Invest In Gold?

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Is It The Right Time To Invest In Gold? 1

By Zoe Lyons, Hatton Garden Metals

The current climate is one of uncertainty, so it can be difficult to know what to do with your money, particularly investments. When faced with the decision on what to do with your savings, there are a number of options, but one investment which many have opted for over the years is gold buying.

Purchasing gold can be a great investment. Although the price of which can fluctuate just like anything else, the value of gold has generally tended to increase at a good rate and many prefer it over other saving options. With bank interest rates currently at a low and discussions of negative interest rates, many are opting to purchase gold as a way to earn money on their savings.

So is gold buying right for you? We take a look at some commonly asked questions when it comes to purchasing gold.

Why Should I Buy Gold?

Buying gold is often seen as a good investment due to value increases, so you may be able to make a profit from selling it on if the price of gold increases after you have purchased. The price can fluctuate, so profit is not guaranteed and is based on a number of factors. Looking back over previous years since the 1970s, the value of gold has prospered compared to other investment types, albeit with some dips in value at certain points over the past 50 years.

Buying gold also allows you full control as you are the owner. So you can choose if and when you want to sell.

Buying Gold Vs ETFs

When looking at investment opportunities, you may consider ETFs. An ETF is an Exchange Rated Fund, which when purchased is similar to buying stocks and shares. They can be a good investment, but is it more beneficial than purchasing gold?

When purchasing physical gold you will need to consider where to store it. This can incur charges, whereas with an ETF there is no need for storage, but an ETF can come with admin charges and investment management costs. When you choose to sell an ETF, you may also be required to pay a commission, which are often small amounts, but can add up if you are an active trader. There is also less control with an ETF as the price of which can change and is based on the company’s actions.

Gold Bars Vs Gold Coins

If you do choose to purchase gold, you will be faced with the option of whether to buy gold coins or gold bars. Although similar, they have varying benefits.

  • Gold Coins

The purchase of gold coins are often favoured by those who appreciate the historic value of the coin. Many people collect coins, so an investor may be inclined to pay more if they are a keen collector of such. Many may also pay more for gold coins based on their rarity. These factors can affect the price you pay or sell at, meaning the value of gold coins is not solely deemed by the live price of gold, so you may receive a higher price, dependent on the investor. This allows the price of gold coins to be more fluid than gold bars.

  • Gold Bars
Zoe Lyons

Zoe Lyons

Gold bars are not seen as a collectors item and don’t tend to have historical attachments. Because of this, the price is not influenced by these factors and is based on the weight, purity and the live price of gold at the time of selling or purchasing. This allows for a more accurate estimate of the price of your gold bars.

Where Should I Store Gold?

One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to gold buying is storage. If you do choose to purchase gold, you will need to consider storage. Just like anything else of a high value, it needs to be stored securely. Simply keeping gold stored at home could be risky. When kept in your property, if not stored in the correct conditions, it is more susceptible to damp and corroding. There is also the possibility that your home insurance does not cover your gold, so if you are burgled, you could lose your investment. Because of this, it is wise to protect your gold with proper secure storage. Look for companies that offer storage abilities that are covered by insurance and be sure to do your research on pricing and look for cost effective storage as the fees incurred can soon add up. You may also want to look for a company that allows you quick and easy access to your gold to ensure you can buy and sell with ease.

Should I Invest In Silver Too?

Although gold is often a more popular investment option, many choose to purchase silver alongside it. The price of silver tends to be much more volatile than the price of gold, for this reason, many see gold as a safer choice. The price of silver will still have an intrinsic value but may be more worthwhile for those looking into long term investment options due to its VAT charges.

Negative Interest Rates

Although it is not a current practice, there has been recent talk of banks in the UK potentially introducing negative interest rates. If a savings account has a negative interest rate, this could mean you are charged for keeping money in the bank. If introduced, this could mean savers lose out. Instead of receiving interest on your savings, you may be charged a rate for keeping your money in the bank.

Could purchasing gold be a better option for your savings? Possibly, but this will depend on how much you have saved and the rates of the negative interest (if they are introduced). They may be minimal, but if you have a large amount in a savings account, this could add up to an expensive charge. If you choose to use your savings to buy gold, you may make a profit upon selling, but you will need to consider costs of storage as well as the chances of the price decreasing in the future.

So, is it the right time to invest in gold? It’s a very popular question. Hopefully the above will give you a bit more insight into gold investing and how it may work for you, but with any investment, there is never a guarantee that it will generate profit, so take careful considerations when diversifying your portfolio.

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Private public investment is more inter-dependant than ever

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Private public investment is more inter-dependant than ever 2

By Konstantin Sidorov, CEO and Founder of London Technology Club

Today, one thing unites the majority of governments around the world: their fiscal position is destitute. COVID 19 has seen an extraordinary, forced expansion in public sector expenditure, which has come just as the world was getting back on its feet following the Global Financial Crisis. The financial strains are already showing and will become more apparent as we move through the pandemic into social and economic recovery.

If you want to understand the impact that the re-focusing of public sector spending is having, then there is no better example than the space economy. In the US and Europe, we are becoming increasingly reliant on the space rockets and space launch companies pioneered by private investors and entrepreneurs.

NASA, that powerhouse and flag bearer for American national pride, is having to partner with the private sector in order to fulfil their missions. Private investors, the likes of Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos alongside smart use of new technologies have brought the economics of space down and the excitement around what’s possible up. With it comes a whole satellite manufacturing, launch and servicing industry growing to $271bn in revenues in 2019. Of the total revenues in the space economy ($366bn in 2019), government space budgets made up $95bn of that.

Commercial entities, being patiently built and backed by private capital willing to dig deep and progress their own missions has helped fuel the space economy. Many are realising now just how crucial space is for the future of a country’s protection, position in the world and prosperity. In China, India and Russia we still see significant public sector expenditure in space projects as an agent for military and economic expansion. The role of private investors in plugging major gaps in public sector funds and national pride in Western economies is therefore increasingly important.

Private and public investment must be seen as a partnership. We should not forget that Elon Musk’s SpaceX survived from the brink of collapse only because of a ten-figure NASA contract awarded at the last minute. Musk, since then, has looked for public infrastructure contracts to fuel his companies, the likes of The Boring Company winning the contract to build a downtown-to-airport loop, a  government program for high-speed transport in Chicago. Musk proves his products and services work and then secures lucrative government contracts in order to quickly scale which in turn leads to transforming whole industries.

It’s not just space infrastructure where we see this redefinition of the role of public and private finance. The Chinese have invested at least US$160 billion in infrastructure projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, creating roads, ports, energy infrastructure and providing aid to foreign governments to create the most ambitious infrastructure project the world has yet seen.

Konstantin Sidorov

Konstantin Sidorov

For Western countries, access to that scale of public finance is not fiscally-possible, a new solution is needed and just as the space race has been redefined by private capital, so will the development of new industries, infrastructure and the reinvigorating of economies facing structural change that has been accelerated by COVID.

Private capital has the huge advantage of being driven by conviction and competence. It can cost-effectively be deployed, fast and targeted with a laser-like focus by entrepreneurs who know exactly what they want to achieve. Private capital, currently, is also in abundance.

In a world which is providing slim returns across multiple traditional asset classes, private capital is being stockpiled and is waiting for the opportunity to be invested for growth. We need private investors to have the confidence to deploy their capital to fuel the system once again.

This new world, post COVID, won’t see public capital replaced. Its role is likely to focus more heavily on health, welfare and critical infrastructure. However private investors will step in where gaps appear. Ten years ago, the scale and ambition of private space companies would have been greeted with snorts of derision and looks of disbelief. Today governments embrace the private capital, and regard the companies that have deployed it as systemically important national assets.

As we look to the future, huge macro trends emerge that demand significant investment: the aging population, the threat of pandemic, the drive to create a sustainable economy and lifestyle, the need to decarbonise, the digital revolution. The list goes on.

Public finance cannot hope to provide the finance and pioneer the bold thinking and accept the risks required to find new solutions that drive us forward in a world of change. That role goes to the private investor and private capital.

For the investors themselves the opportunities are immense, and for society as a whole they are just as big. As we look forward public and private sector needs to embrace private capital. Rather than fearing private investors as locusts who strip organisations and opportunities of profit then fly away, a narrative that gained traction after the last great economic crash. This time we need to see private capital as agents for positive transformation. Private-public partnerships fuelling each other.

Private money is already building rockets that send people and payloads into space, but that isn’t the final frontier for entrepreneurial investors or the societies and economies that benefit from their boldness.

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Investing

What should I invest and How do I invest

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What should I invest and How do I invest 3

By Imogen Clarke, The Fry Group

With all the uncertainty that has arisen from 2020, with lockdown threatening businesses and the warning of a second wave, the topic of investments has taken on new meaning. Nowadays, more people are concerned with what makes for a good investment, or, if you’re a novice, how to best invest.

For instance, you might be unsure about the reliability of the company you’re looking to invest in, as well as the long-term prospects of your investment.

If you are unsure of your investments, then it is best to seek advice from financial experts like The Fry Group, who deal with tax, wealth and estate planning. They will see that you have a strong financial plan in place to help meet your objectives. They will develop a strategy that is built around your needs and asses any risks that could hinder your plans.

There are some things you’ll need to consider for your strategy; for instance, are you looking to make investments that are more of a risk and will take longer to come to fruition? Or, alternatively, are you wanting a faster approach that will result in a steady income? Whether or not you decide to play it safe all depends on your current financial situation and whether you have the means to take more of a risk. Do you have any other debts that take precedence over your future plans? Is your investment strategy realistic?

With the aid of a specialist – or investment manager – you can design an investment concept that works for you and your goals, and start to build a regular income from your investments. There are four main areas when it comes to assets (groups of investments) that you can consider:

  • Equities
  • Bonds
  • Alternatives
  • Cash

Your investment manager will test the risks associated with your investment, and if it proves to be a positive investment choice, then you will be able to invest more over time.

So, how do you decide where to invest?

According to The Fry Group, ESG investing (Environmental, Social and Governance) is a good option for investors looking to support businesses that meet their similar ethics.

The main areas of ESG investing include:

  • Environmental challenges (climate change, pollution, etc)
  • Social issues (human rights, labour standards, child labour, etc)
  • Governance considerations relating to company management

According to The Fry Group, “Many investors choose to consider ESG investing in order to ensure any investment decisions reflect personal beliefs and values. As a result, they choose to support companies who are making informed, responsible decisions which take into account their wider societal and global impact. In this way investors can achieve peace of mind that their investments are creating a positive effect.”

ESG investing is also more relevant now than ever, as more businesses are looking to present themselves as an environmentally conscious corporation that recognises the values of their consumers.

As The Fry Group puts it, “In the past, ESG investing has been seen as a niche investment approach, for a relatively small number of people with specific requirements. This has changed significantly in recent years, with a growing awareness of environmental issues such as climate change and an increasing understanding of social issues and human rights. As a result, many people are increasingly interested in reflecting their opinions and lifestyle choices through the way they invest.”

So, if you want your investments to pave the way for your personal values and reflect your own morals, then this is the route to go down. But how does it all work?

There are four areas of ESG investing:

  • Responsible ownership and engagement: when companies are encouraged to make necessary improvements.
  • Avoidance or negative screening: whereby businesses are ‘graded’ based on how ethical their business practices are and are avoided altogether if their methods are not approved.
  • Positive screening strategies:when companies meet the ESG goals and are approved for investments.
  • Impact investment strategies: the purpose of this is to use investment capital for positive social results such as renewable energy.

You will need to take into account your own personal objectives as well as the objectives that meet the ESG investment criteria. And, in terms of financial performance, ESG investing can be hugely beneficial. Those who opt for ESG investing perform a more in-depth analysis into long-term and future trends that affect industries, meaning that they are better prepared for changes in consumer values when they arise. And, with all the unpredictability that this year has offered us so far, isn’t it better to do the research and have all angles covered?

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