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Nigeria’s insurance sector is growing rapidly and has low levels of penetration in a young society inhabiting Africa’s largest economy. Add to this what a recent Fitch Rating report calls an environment “ripe for consolidation” and it becomes easy to see why foreign insurance groups are eyeing the market keenly.

The March 2014 Fitch report says “foreign investors in the Nigerian insurance market have shown a preference for acquisition or partnership above setting up new insurance operations”. This preference is down to a need for local knowledge, a good distribution footprint and the ability to achieve scale quickly. Continue reading »

By Dalibor Rohac and Nouh El-Harmouzi

Campaigners for Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 76-year old Algerian president who is seeking re-election for a fourth consecutive term, promise “broad democracy” if their candidate wins. After decades of oppression and authoritarianism, Algerians have little reason to believe them. Continue reading »

There is no doubt that emerging market (EM) investors have cheered up considerably of late. Following a torrid January and February, virtually all asset classes in the EM universe appear – on aggregate at least – to be gaining in value.

The bellwether stock index, the MSCI EM index, is up 9.6 per cent from its low on February 5. EM sovereign bonds are yielding an average of 5.51 per cent, down 0.37 per cent since January 1. Local currency bonds are, in many cases, producing stellar returns sharpened by windfall currency gains. Indeed, some EM currencies are among the world’s best performers, with the Indonesian rupiah rising 7.81 per cent, the Brazilian real gaining 7.3 per cent and the Indian rupee climbing 2.8 per cent so far this year. Continue reading »

South Africans have endured a torrid few months. Drought, floods, a presidential expenses scandal, rolling blackouts and a prolonged strike at platinum mines have combined to shake investor confidence and put pressure on the rand. Over the weekend, Nigeria eclipsed South Africa as the continent’s biggest economy. But local consumers now face a threat from much further afield: Ukraine.

The fall-out from the Russian annexation of Crimea has threatened an important source of wheat and maize for the country. South Africa is a net exporter of maize and a severe drought in North West province, home to many maize farms, affected supplies of the staple crop acutely. Continue reading »

Young Arabs are increasingly turning their backs on cushy public sector jobs in favour of working for private companies and starting their own businesses, a survey in 16 countries has found.

There has also been an erosion in optimism that the “Arab spring” uprisings in recent years against authoritarian governments across the region will translate into better lives for ordinary people, the survey found. Continue reading »

Nigeria has overtaken South Africa to become Africa’s largest economy after the government released updated figures that raised the country’s gross domestic product by 89 per cent to $509bn.

The re-calculation rightly put most Nigerian officials in celebratory mood. But Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the country’s finance minister (pictured), offered also a cautious note: the new figures do highlight some acute problems. Continue reading »

Namibia has until recently been largely overlooked by the oil majors. A spate of farm-in agreements over the last six months suggests that this is changing. International oil companies are keen to secure a stake in the southern African country’s oil boom, should one materialise.

Austria’s OMV and Murphy Oil Corporation from Arkansas are the latest companies to make their first foray into the Namibian oil and gas sector, buying 25 and 40 per cent, respectively, of Cowan Petroleum’s licence to explore two blocks off the Namibian coast. Continue reading »

By Edward Robinson, Culmer Raphael

Events in Algeria could be about to complicate the European Union’s response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

As part of a second possible package of sanctions, the European Commission is drawing up options for “reducing energy dependence on Russia”, to be debated by EU heads of government at the June summit. The obvious options include substituting some Russian gas imports with supplies from Europe’s second and third largest gas suppliers: Norway and Algeria. The CEO of ENI crystallised it last week when he said that he expected a ‘gigantic’ effort to diversify gas imports in the absence of any agreement with Russia over Crimea. Continue reading »

Two new exchange traded funds giving investors access to South Africa’s palladium market have hit the ground running.

Standard Bank’s AfricaPalladium ETF, launched on March 24, had grown to R300m ($28.4m), the equivalent of 33,000 ounces, by March 28, the bank said. Absa, a member of Barclays, unveiled its NewPalladium ETF on March 27; by Monday afternoon Absa said current listings being processed, to be concluded on April 2 and 3, showed the fund had grown to 24,847 ounces of palladium, valued at R200m.

Generally, commodity prices have come under pressure globally. So why would now be a good time to launch a palladium-backed product? Continue reading »

At first glance, it looks as if South Africa’s latest announcements on trade and manufacturing data suggest two different narratives – one of recovery and one of continued slowdown. In fact, however, a common thread between them points toward an overall slowing growth trend.

A surprise trade surplus of R1.7bn in February represented a swing from January’s deficit of R16.9bn, pushing the rand higher as investors grew more confident over South Africa’s export performance. However, the manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index, announced on Tuesday, slipped to 50.3 in February from 51.7 in January, suggesting a slowdown in manufacturing growth. Continue reading »

When Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete steps down next year he hopes to have completed the first of three phases in a plan to turn Tanzania into a middle-income country. The purpose of the first phase is to tackle “constraints to growth” in agriculture, transport, energy, water, education and resources. Continue reading »

By Stephen Adams of Global Counsel

Events at west African lender Ecobank over the past six months have been widely and rightly interpreted as an important test for the credibility of African bank governance and regulation. A combination of internal whistleblowing, regulatory pressure and shareholder activism did for former CEO Thierry Tanoh and have prompted a fairly substantial overhaul of bank governance. All good news for African good governance.

But the bigger question for African banks like Ecobank is still unanswered. This is simply that as a cross-border African financial institution, Ecobank is evolving much faster than the institutions that supervise and regulate it. With operations in more than 30 sub-Saharan markets, Ecobank is a complex prospect for African bank supervisors and one that they are only just starting to get to grips with. Continue reading »

South Africa, the African continent’s largest economy, had better take note. West Africa, an area that includes Nigeria, has for the third time in three years notched up more private equity (PE) deals than Southern Africa.

West Africa had the highest reported value of deals ($545m) during 2013, surpassing Southern Africa ($491m) and Eastern Africa ($163m), according to the 2014 Deloitte’s East Africa Private Equity Confidence Survey, published this month. Continue reading »

Zimbabwe is suffering from capital flight, a liquidity crunch, regular power outages, falling commodity prices and other manifestations of an economic crisis.

But beyond these well-documented woes, there are several “mysteries” that throw up searching governance questions for the regime of Robert Mugabe, the 90-year-old president. Continue reading »

South Africa kept interest rates unchanged on Thursday as Africa’s largest economy continues to grapple with the policy challenge of subdued growth set against inflationary pressures.

The decision by the central bank’s monetary policy committee to keep its repo rate at 5.5 per cent was expected as the volatile rand has recovered slightly from a disastrous beginning to the year when it tumbled to five year lows against the US dollar. Still, the MPC’s decision was a tight one, with a four-to-three split on the committee. Continue reading »