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The promise and pitfalls of making payments in Africa

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Nat Davison, Partner, Frontierpay

Nat Davison, Partner, Frontierpay

Most conversations about doing business in Africa will include words such as “challenges,” “instability” and “risk.”

The same three words are often applied to managing currency risk and making payments throughout the continent. Costly transmission fees, unestablished banking systems, central bank restrictions and market volatility are all obstacles keeping treasury managers and payroll teams up at night.

That said, Africa also has a lot to offer from a payments perspective. The continent is becoming a hub of new payments technology, same-day payments are possible in countries such as Nigeria and there is a booming mobile payments landscape.

In short, while there is some volatility, if payroll teams are aware of the potential pitfalls and how best to avoid them, there are plenty of rewards to be reaped in the continent.

Finding the right supplier

Nat Davison, Partner, Frontierpay

Nat Davison, Partner, Frontierpay

When looking at currency markets, risk is a constant. Before even considering how currency fluctuations could affect your business though, you first need to gain access to any of Africa’s local currencies; a process which isn’t always as straightforward as it might sound.

In an ideal world, a single supplier would be able to meet most, if not all, of a business’ currency requirements. The reality though, is that many high street banks have a limited or restricted offering and are unable to provide a solution that covers multiple African nations. It’s important, therefore, when preparing to do business in the continent, to find a partner who can cover as many currencies as possible. Not only will this help to smooth internal processes, but it will also enable more effective currency hedging.

Companies often try to get around liquidity limitations in Africa by making payments in US dollars instead. The problem in doing so is that unless the beneficiary bank account is denominated in USD, the payment will be converted to the local currency before crediting at an arbitrary and more than likely unfavourable rate of exchange. Furthermore, it’s impossible to pay a supplier or employee a fixed amount using this system.

Currency volatility

Markets can be fickle beasts and to use even a commonly traded currency such as the South African rand can require a thick skin and heightened awareness of risk. Last year, the currency dropped 7.5 per cent in the last four days of March, only to rise by the same amount in a nine-day stretch in April. Shifts of this nature are more than capable of affecting your payment costs and can hit with little warning.

On the flip-side, anyone with the nerve to have played the rand over the long term will have seen a downward slide of more than 50 per cent in its value between 2011 and 2015, only for it to rise by 13 per cent in 2016 and outperform every EM currency except Brazil’s real and Russia’s rouble.

To remove a degree of the uncertainty from trading the rand, I would advise anyone who hopes to do business with South Africa to have an understanding of the carry trade; a strategy that involves borrowing a currency with a low interest rate in order to fund the purchase of another with a higher rate.

Payment risk

As a result of the combined political and currency volatility in the region, knowledge and experience of South Africa’s local markets are key to successfully negotiating the pitfalls that could cost you time and money.

Where possible, work with partners who can demonstrate a strong track record and broad network within the region, to speed up the delivery of payments and avoid overblown fees. Some banks and payment partners may be able to deliver funds to Nigeria, for example, but not all will have access to local banking systems. Having this capability would open up the possibility of naira crediting bank accounts within hours rather than days.

Pricing is affected in the same way. A deeper knowledge of local market conditions, parallel markets and FX volatility will allow you access to much more favourable currency rates and the most efficient processes available within the rapidly developing continent.

Banking requirements are also fluid, with differing beneficiary data needed in different countries – in stark contrast with the EU and Single European Payment Area. Specialist experience when it comes to making payments in less-developed regions, such as Mozambique or Lesotho, will help to avoid lengthy delays, payment rejections and administration charges.

 Volatility in Chinese economy

Africa’s prosperity increasingly depends on China. Over the past 20 years, China has become its largest trading partner and a significant source of investment and lending, paving the way for deep economic ties between the two countries.

As a result, recent signs of a slowdown in the Chinese economy are likely to be a very bad omen for Africa, which is massively dependent on China to not only purchase its natural resources, but also to upgrade its decaying national infrastructure.

Ultimately, a slowing China will hinder Africa’s ability to grow. However, as a decelerated China is looking ever more like an inevitability than a possibility, any business with exposure to Africa must ensure they are monitoring the landscape in China just as closely.

 In conclusion

As a market to do business in, Africa is gathering global interest. Widespread urbanisation is fostering large cities in which to set up shop and readily available workforces to recruit from. New consumer markets, such as a growing middle class, are presenting previously untold opportunities to trade and the region is seeing strong growth, both economically and from a perspective of technological innovation.

However, for any new business, success on the currency and payments front needs to be an immediate concern. Failure to manage currency risk can fundamentally jeopardise your business, while holes in your liquidity provision may even leave you unable to pay suppliers or employees. Familiarise yourself with your required currencies and the local banking infrastructure, and invest time in finding a partner with the knowledge to keep any potential risk under control.

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Oil rises on positive forecasts, slow U.S. output restart

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Oil rises on positive forecasts, slow U.S. output restart 1

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Tuesday, underpinned by the likely easing of COVID-19 lockdowns around the world, positive economic forecasts and lower output as U.S. supplies were slow to return after a deep freeze in Texas shut down crude production.

Brent crude was up 36 cents, or 0.5%, at $65.60 a barrel by 1212 GMT, and U.S. crude rose 39 cents, or 0.6%, to $62.09 a barrel.

Both contracts rose more than $1 earlier in the session.

“Vaccine news is helping oil, as the likely removal of mobility restrictions over the coming months on the back of vaccine rollouts should further boost the oil demand and price recovery,” said UBS oil analyst Giovanni Staunovo.

Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg said optimistic oil price forecasts issued by leading U.S. brokers had also contributed to the latest upswing in prices.

Goldman Sachs expects Brent prices to reach $70 per barrel in the second quarter from the $60 it predicted previously, and $75 in the third quarter from $65 forecast earlier.

Morgan Stanley expects Brent crude to climb to $70 in the third quarter.

“New COVID-19 cases are falling fast globally, mobility statistics are bottoming out and are starting to improve, and in non-OECD countries, refineries are already running as hard as before COVID-19,” Morgan Stanley said in a note.

Bank of America said Brent prices could temporarily spike to $70 per barrel in the second quarter.

Disruptions in Texas caused by last week’s winter storm also supported oil prices. Some U.S. shale producers forecast lower oil output in the first quarter.

Stockpiles of U.S. crude oil and refined products likely declined last week, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday.

A weaker dollar also provided some support to oil as crude prices tend to move inversely to the U.S. currency.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, additional reporting by Jessica Jaganathan in Singapore; editing by David Evans and John Stonestreet)

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UK-Japan trade deal settled nerves for Japanese firms, Honda executive says

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UK-Japan trade deal settled nerves for Japanese firms, Honda executive says 2

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s trade deal with Japan settled the nerves of a lot of Japanese businesses in the United Kingdom and gives them confidence about their future prospects there, a senior Honda executive said on Tuesday.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, has since the 1980s made the United Kingdom its favoured European destination for investment, with the likes of Nissan, Toyota and Honda using the country as a launchpad into Europe.

But Britain’s shock 2016 decision to leave the European Union had prompted Japan to express unusually strong public concerns. Their companies and investors warned that a disorderly exit from the EU would force them to rethink their four-decade bet on Britain.

“We welcome very much the Japanese trade agreement which as a Japanese businesses was very welcomed,” Ian Howells, senior vice president at Honda Motor Europe, told a parliamentary committee.

“On the point around confidence, that certainly amongst my peers in Japanese companies was very much welcomed, and probably settled a lot of nerves in terms of their trading prospects in the UK going forward.”

Britain and Japan formally signed a trade agreement in October, marking Britain’s first big post-Brexit deal on trade. It has also made a formal request to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), of which Japan is also a member.

(Reporting by Kate Holton)

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UK retailers see sharp fall in sales and mounting job losses, CBI says

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UK retailers see sharp fall in sales and mounting job losses, CBI says 3

LONDON (Reuters) – British retail sales fell in the year to February as stores cut jobs at a rapid rate, with only supermarkets reporting any growth during the latest COVID-19 lockdown, a survey showed on Thursday.

The Confederation of British Industry’s gauge of retail sales stood at -45, up only slightly from January’s eight-month low of -50. The measure points to falling sales and is below the consensus forecast of -38 in a Reuters poll of economists.

Retailers’ expectations for March – when non-essential shops will remain closed to the public as part of lockdown measures – fell to -62, the lowest since the series began in 1983.

In another sign of a changing consumer habits during lockdown, the survey’s gauge of internet retail sales hit a new record high.

“With lockdown measures still in place, trading conditions remain extremely difficult for retailers,” said Ben Jones, principal economist at the CBI.

“Record growth in internet shopping suggests that retailers’ investments in on-line platforms and click-and-collect services may be paying off, but the re-opening of the sector can’t come soon enough to protect jobs and breathe life back into the sector.”

Job losses among retailers accelerated according to a quarterly question in the survey. For the distribution sector as a whole, which includes wholesalers and car dealers, employment fell at a record rate, the CBI survey showed.

(Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by David Milliken)

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