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On Your Marks, Get Set, Africa!
In light of the decline of world markets and the lack of prospects in the West, Africa is increasingly looking like a place to do business.
Africa, with all its anguish and chaotic history and struggles with social upheaval, shows a resilience and a sense of survival that we can marvel at.
The International Monetary Fund predicts that developing economies in general, and Africa in particular, will grow by 4.5% this year and 4.8% in 2013. An interesting indicator was the value of residential real estate, which increased by an average of 8% in 2011 (AFDB Statistics) Economic growth is expected to continue despite recessionary trends in some parts of the world.
Although income disparities exist across Africa, an authentic middle class is developing. An estimated sixty million African households have annual incomes of more than US$3,000 at market exchange rates. By 2015, that number is expected to reach one hundred million.
Urbanization increases the demand for all types of real estate: office space, retail complexes and, of course, housing. The growth of infrastructure projects and the potential for them are great. This also has positive effects on work.
South African business, one might say, is stumbling. Recently, Resilient, known for its successful series of mall developments outside major cities outside major urban hubs, expressed displeasure with local bureaucracy and revealed it will spend more than 1 billion rand to build 10 malls in Nigeria. The malls, measuring 10,000 square meters and 15,000 square meters, will be built over the next three years in the capital Abuja and the city of Lagos, the main commercial hubs. Shoprite, Africa’s largest food retailer, will be the anchor tenant.
Wal-Mart-owned Massmart said last month it would invest in growth in Africa and hopes to grow its food retail business from about 7 billion Rand to about 20 billion Rand in the next five years. But South African food retailers Shoprite and Pick n’ Pay’s whose sites are firmly focused on Africa. Pick n Pay increased its growth in Africa, leveraging R1.4 billion from the sale of Franklins in Australia.
Shoprite, which has only about 123 stores in Africa compared to about 1,730 locally, says another 174 stores will be added in Africa next year. On the other hand, Pick n’ Pay aims to expand to Malawi and DRC within the year. The food retailer has more than 93 stores in Africa north of South Africa. Zambia and Zimbabwe are on the cards for expansion. Woolworth has opened 14 stores through its Enterprise Development Program in Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania and Mozambique. Woolworths is currently present in 12 countries with almost 60 stores across Africa, excluding South Africa.
Further investment in the African market could come in the form of buyouts of South African food retailers by Tesco, Carrefour and Metro. Wal-Mart’s consumption of Massmart has already been well publicized.
On a slightly different note, Don’t Waste Services (DWS), South Africa’s largest on-site waste management company, has announced its intention to open branches in Botswana, Kenya, Zambia, Mauritius and Swaziland. The company – is active in the mining, retail, hospitality, healthcare and large industrial markets and currently provides waste reduction services to 300 corporate clients across their site portfolios. Having recently expanded to Mauritius, the company is looking to duplicate its successful model in other African countries.
On the property front, JHI Properties Zimbabwe has added another 15 properties to its portfolio of over 50 as it will manage an unlisted property investment fund, Ascendant Property Fund (APF). JHI has already expanded from its base in South Africa to Zambia, Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Nigeria. This further expansion comes at a time when Zimbabwe is experiencing exceptional retail market growth at a rate of about nine percent plus year on year. APF CEO Kura Chihota foresees active growth in Zimbabwe. “With Zimbabwe’s projected economic growth rate of nine percent per year, the outlook looks promising.” Chihota said recently.
JHI Properties has also been appointed as the letting agent for Joina City, a new luxury ‘urban city’ in Harare which includes four floors of retail with 18 floors of offices. Major tenants include big South African names Spar and Edgars.
He brought us to Bigan. Bigan, who brought us the Mombela Stadium in Nelspruit, the Ministerial Housing Projects Olievehotbosch, the Oliver Tambo International Wharf Project and the ESKOM Coal Hauleage Road Repair, is negotiating a partnership with Ghanaian real estate companies to build affordable houses for the poor and middle-income earners.
The housing deficit in Ghana is about 1.5 million units. Bigan believes it has the capacity to deliver and help reduce the housing deficit in Ghana. Based on his experience in South Africa, Bigano’s Emmanuel Kere believes the company can “support not only the (housing) sector in Ghana, but infrastructure development in general.”
Bigan claims to build 30,000 houses in South Africa a year and has a lot to offer Ghanaian companies. President of Bigen Africa, Dr. Iraj Abedian said the company was attracted to Ghana because of the country’s stable political environment and friendly business atmosphere. Bigan is unapologetic that he intends to use Ghana as a springboard to launch operations in Senegal, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The South African government is not exempt from taking an active role in the struggle for Africa. The Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which manages more than a trillion rand on behalf of government officials, accounting for 10% of SA’s JSE market capitalization, is looking for potential private equity partners. 10% of the portfolio will be invested outside South Africa, R50 billion is reserved for African investments. 60% of that, about R30 billion, will go to private equity according to PIC CEO Elias Masilela in an interview with Reuters. The PIC is likely to be a player in infrastructure investment as countries on the continent build and rehabilitate their roads, dams, hospitals and power plants, he said.
Standard Bank, which is present in 18 African countries, relies on infrastructure. In an interview with Hugo Scott-Gall of Goldman Sachs, Sim Tshabalala, deputy managing director of Standard Bank Group, said: “in most of sub-Saharan Africa, the infrastructure has almost collapsed or is limited. It has to be rebuilt, so there are huge opportunities in project finance . A lot of infrastructure will be rebuilt, mostly with the support of the Brazilians and the Chinese. The relationship we have with ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) also helps us identify opportunities and take advantage of them. In our case, ICBC is a 20 percent shareholder.”
Standard Bank, as a South African player in the African market, has positioned itself well as an intermediary or conduit for other BRIC partners looking to connect with the continent. For example, Standard Bank has a cooperation agreement to identify Chinese corporations and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) seeking opportunities on the continent.
Standard Bank has plenty of work as a broker for foreign capital since it is estimated that Africa needs about US$90 billion a year to deal with its infrastructure, and is currently raising about US$70 billion. This comes from a combination of sources: taxes, the banking system and large sums coming from outside – venture capital. The banking system in some African countries does not have the capacity to finance all the necessary infrastructure activities, so there will be a heavy reliance on international capital markets and the international banking system.
Standard Bank is not alone in its growing presence in Africa, ABSA has received regulatory approval to launch a new insurance business in Zambia, bringing the number of sub-Saharan countries where the Barclays-owned bank will operate insurance to four. First National Bank (FNB) has revealed plans to invest almost R2 billion over the next 12 months as SA’s third largest bank by customer base, to expand its presence in SA and Africa. It is believed to be considering an acquisition in Nigeria and has sent scouting missions to Ghana. The bank, which operates in eight countries in Africa including SA, has about 7 million customers in SA and 1.1 million in Africa. FNB Tanzania was its latest addition, while its Zambian division has already announced plans to establish a nationwide branch network by 2016.
There is no doubt that some South African companies are looking at Africa with a greater sense of urgency. The European Union’s financial difficulties exposed South Africa’s vulnerability to European difficulties. More than 25% of South Africa’s bilateral trade comes from the EU. If the GDP in Europe falls, it means that less goods are shipped from Africa. This does not bode well for South Africa. Expansion and investment in Africa can broaden South Africa’s horizons, not to mention its vulnerability.
But in the words of Standard Bank’s Sim Tshabalala: “As a South African, I would like to believe in the sustainability of the country’s national competitive advantage as an entry point to the African continent. Increasingly, people can go directly to Kenya and Nigeria, for example, without going through South Africa, because those countries are building the necessary solid infrastructure and the necessary financial and legal infrastructure.”
Thus, South Africa’s competitive advantage appears to be diminishing as the rest of the continent develops. In the meantime, many companies see the gap and start fighting. It seems the future really is now.
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