Africa prospects lure investors, but is it ready?

Wed Jul 7, 2010 2:24am EDT
 
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By Matthew Tostevin and Stuart Grudgings

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Africa offers among the world's best investment prospects as emerging markets grow ever more important, although its economies risk being destabilized by the slew of capital they stand to attract in coming years.

Energy-producing continental giant Nigeria was identified as a top pick by some of the most influential figures in emerging markets finance who spoke to the Reuters Emerging Markets Summit in Sao Paulo last week.

Africa withstood the financial crisis better than many predicted, and the region's economic growth is forecast at 4.75 percent in 2010. Next year, half of the world's 10 fastest growing economies are expected to be in Africa, and it is now attracting more than just the most intrepid investors.

"The latent interest in Africa is enormous," said Stephen Jennings, chief executive of Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital, speaking to the Reuters meeting by video link from Moscow.

"Before the crisis there were probably 40 people or groups establishing Africa funds. In 3-4 years you'll have 100 Africa funds and the biggest one won't be $2 billion, it'll be $20 billion."

Fund tracker EPFR reports 43 consecutive weeks of net inflows to Africa equities funds, reaching $484 million in the first half of 2010 -- nearly double those to India over the same period.

Africa's advocates say the inflows stand to accelerate rapidly as a dearth of attractive returns in the developed world pulls investors in while a more stable political and economic environment indicates diminishing risks.

MSCI's index of Africa countries outside South Africa .dMI8600000P, though well off its year highs, is still up nearly 8 percent in 2010. The S&P 500 .SPX is more than 8 percent down.   Continued...