After Ghana vote, investors turn to economy

Wed Dec 19, 2012 4:01am EST
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By Tosin Sulaiman

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A closely fought but peaceful election in Ghana this month has burnished the international image of the west African oil, gold and cocoa producer as "the Switzerland of Africa."

But to win economic bragging rights too, Ghana's new government will have to convince investors that it can tame a swelling fiscal deficit, stabilize a volatile currency and rebuild foreign exchange reserves that have declined this year while those of other African economies have grown.

Elected President John Dramani Mahama's administration will have to confront these challenges while economic growth slows - albeit to a robust 7.8 percent projected for 2013, from a blistering 14.5 percent last year.

Then there is the pressure of high expectations from ordinary Ghanaians impatient to see the benefits of oil production, which started in 2010.

Investors say they would also like more opportunities to participate in Ghana's capital markets, but the main constraints are a bond yield curve that ends at five years and a small and illiquid stock market with just 34 listed companies.

"Ghana is one of our favorite places," said Sven Richter, head of frontier markets at Renaissance Asset Managers. "We would have more in Ghana if there was more liquidity. We have less than one percent of our fund there and we'd quite happily have 10 percent."

Despite a legal challenge by the opposition to Mahama's narrow victory earlier this month, the largely incident-free election in a region known for coups and civil wars has given foreign investors comfort.

"Someone described Ghana to us as the Switzerland of Africa. I think that's an apt description," said Ayo Salami, chief investment officer of asset manager Duet Group's Africa Opportunities Fund. "There seems to be a continuing commitment on the part of the government to institutional reform, to embedding democratic culture. All these are things we like."   Continued...