Innovative African IPO and listing successes show strong demand

Here is a round-up of recent initial public offers (IPOs) and other listings of shares on African Stock Exchanges, many of them over-subscribed. Namibia has scored its first listing of a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), while Mauritius is the home for an innovative listing of Afreximbank GDRs and of 2 primary listings on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Namibia: Nimbus Infrastructure Limited is first SPAC vehicle
Nimbus Infrastructure Limited listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange (NSX) via private placement and started trading on 6 October. It raised more than N$100 million ($7m) from local investment institutions and retail investors. It aims to invest into information, computer and telecommunications (ICT) projects and institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is Namibia’s first listed capital pool company (CPC). This is a type of company, also known as a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), is most popular in the USA or Canada and South Africa’s Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) has listed several SPACs.

The company has no commercial operations or assets, except cash. It uses its cash to evaluate promising investments and once it has invested in a viable business, usually within a set timeframe, it continues to operate as a conventional listed company. The funds are kept in an escrow account and are released on approval by shareholders or in line with a pre-approved spending budget, according to the company website. It must also comply with the Corporate Governance Code for Namibia (NamCode).

The private placement was open from 15-29 September. The listing of Nimbus was a joint initiative between Cirrus Capital, Paratus Namibia and Cronje and Company.

According to the company, it “is currently looking at a number of potential transactions and as per the stock exchange rules, aims to take these transactions forward for shareholder approval before the end of the year.” Nimbuas has signed a management agreement with Paratus.

According to an NSX statement, reported in Namibian Economist: “The Nimbus listing boasts exciting opportunities for Namibia, as not only does it focus on the fast-growing ICT sector across the continent, but in so doing, it offers a strong diversification opportunity for the funds of institutions and individuals alike, allowing diversified jurisdiction, currency and sector returns for investors. Further to this, as Namibia’s first CPC, Nimbus represents an opportunity to prove a new concept that will likely form a critical part of the future development of the Namibian real and financial sectors”.

Côte d’Ivoire: Ecobank Cote d’Ivoire
Ecobank Cote d’Ivoire launched a share offer on 27 September and closed it the same day as it was already twice oversubscribed. The IPO was to sell 20.44% of the bank’s shareholding in the form of 2,250,000 shares at XOF20,000 per share, raising XOF45bn (USD79.5m).

The bank is set to list on the Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières (BRVM) in December, where it will join parent company Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI), a leading share on the BRVM, the Nigerian Stock Exchang and the Ghana Stock Exchanghe.

The offer, organized by stockbrokers EDC Investment Corporation and Hudson & Cie had been scheduled to run from 22 September to 11 October. It was 2.2x oversubscribed on the first day.

According to Enko Capital “Ecobank Cote d’Ivoire was created in 1989 following the acquisition of Chase Manhattan Bank. The bank has since expanded to become the third largest lender in Ivory Coast with a market share of 10.5% in terms of loans and 11.7% in terms of deposits and employs 648 people across 53 branches holding 274,018 accounts.

“Prior to the IPO, ETI held a 94.26% stake in Ecobank Cote d’Ivoire and this will reduce to 75% post listing. ETI was founded in Togo in 1985 and currently has a presence in 36 African countries. The banking group is listed on three exchanges in Africa.. Its stock is owned by more than 600,000 shareholders and the group employs over 17,000 people across 1,200 branches and offices. Ecobank Cote d’Ivoire is the third largest contributor to ETI’s group revenue after Ecobank Nigeria and Ecobank Ghana.”

Namibia: Letshego Holdings
Letshego Holdings Namibia had to extend its IPO by 4 days to 26 September and drop its offer price from NAD4.70 to NAD3.80 per share, according to Enko Capital: “The main purpose of the IPO was to satisfy the Bank of Namibia’s conditions for granting a banking license to Letshego Bank Namibia in 2016 which require a minimum 45% local ownership within a four year period.”

Letshego listed on 28 September on the Namibian Stock Exchange (NSX)with a market capitlaization of NAD1.9 billion, according to a report in New Era and a press release.

Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein did not have a warm view of capital markets as he celebrated the listing: “’With this listing Letshego has taken a dive into the shark pool, but this is a well-prepared dive that you were truly prepared for”.

Over 3,600 qualifying applications were received during the 4-week offer, with individuals and non-institutional investors making up NAD40m of the total NAD180m raised.

NSX CEO Tiaan Bazuin said: “I am extremely pleased with the successful listing of Letshego. There has been a lot of talk about localization in the Namibian market and this listing shows the best way, in my mind, to achieve this goal.”

Letshego Namibia is an offshoot of Letshego Holdings Limited, listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange, which has reduced its holding from 85% to 79%. Letshego Bank Namibia has had a full licence since July 2016, and is a 100% subsidiary of Letshego Holdings Namibia. Its origin in 2002 was as Edu Loan Namibia, making salary loans, and in 2008 Letshego bought majority shareholding.

Mauritius – Afeximbank global depositary receipts
African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), headquartered in Egypt, raised more than its $100m minimum target after selling global depositary receipts (GDRs) backed by its Class D shares. The GDRs listed on the Stock Exchange of Mauritius was on 4 October. The minimum investment for the offer was $30,000 and it closed on 22 September.

Afreximbank is a supranational trade finance bank established in October 1993. Class A shareholders consist of African States, African central banks and African public institutions; Class B shareholders are African financial institutions and African private investors; Class C shareholders are non-African investors, such as international banks and export credit agencies; while Class D shareholders can be any investors.

South Africa: African Rainbow Capital Investments
This newly formed company listed on the main board of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on 7 September, the 12th listing to date in 2017. It raised ZAR4.0bn ($282m) and brought the total capital raised on the JSE in the year to date to ZAR76bn ($54bn), according to this JSE press release.

ARC Investments is a capital raising and investment entity incorporated in Mauritius which will offer shareholders the opportunity to invest in a permanently broad-based black controlled investment entity holding a diversified portfolio of investments. The initial investment portfolio held by ARC Investments will be seeded by African Rainbow Capital Proprietary Limited (ARC), which will remain the majority shareholder in ARC Investments.

Shareholders invest alongside ARC in the initial portfolio of 16 investments in financial services including: Alexander Forbes Limited, Alexander Forbes Group Limited, Indwe Broker Holdings, Senayo Securities and Santam and and 17 non-financial services including investments in agriculture and food production, building and construction, energy, information technology and telecommunications, investment holding companies and real estate businesses. Its most significant investment is a 20% interest in Multisource Telecoms Proprietary Limited, currently trading as Rain. According to Reuters, ARC Investments is valued at ZAR8.5bn, and has 3 cornerstone investors including Singapore’s GIC Pte Ltd, the Public Investment Corporation and Sanlam Private Wealth.

ARC is a majority black-owned investment holding company which seeks to utilize its empowerment credentials, strong balance sheet and the track record of its leadership and brand to invest in financial services distribution businesses. ARC is wholly owned by Ubuntu-Botho Investments (UBI), which was created in 2003.

Patrice Motsepe, Chairman of both Ubuntu Botho Investments and ARC, said: “the listing of ARC Investments on the JSE is a major step towards realising one of the key objectives of ARC, namely to build a world class broad- based black – controlled investment entity for all South Africans.”

Nemer says the JSE is equally proud to help ARC Investments facilitate its goal of providing investment exposure for the public to B-BBEE assets, which are often only held privately.

South Africa – Steinhoff Africa Retail (STAR)

Holding company Steinhoff Africa Retail (STAR) successfully raised ZAR15.38bn (USD1.08bn) after placing 750,000,000 shares at ZAR20.50 each between 4 and 14 September. It listed on the JSE on 20 September.

It brings public shareholding to 21.7% of STAR, which was formed as part of the restructuring of the Steinhoff Group, and Steinhoff International holds 78.3%. The group has 4,808 stores in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Brands operating under the STAR group include Pep, Ackermans, Poco, Russells, Flash, Bradlows, Rochester, Buco, Timbercity, The Tile House, Incredible Connection, HiFi Corp, Dunns, John Craig, Refinery, Shoe City, Tekkie Town and Sleepmasters.

According to Enko capital, the offer was 4.8x over-subscribed.

South Africa: Brainworks
Mauritius-registered investment holding company Brainworks, with an investment base focused on hospitality, real estate, financial serice and logistics in Zimbabwe, listed on the JSE on 13 October, after an IPO from 28 September to 11 October. It is the first Zimbabwean company with a proimary listing on the JSE and the 16th listing for the year to date, according to a JSE press release, where it sought to raise ZAR316.5m (USD22.3m) through the sale of 27,523,951 shares at ZAR11.50 per share.

Brainworks was established in 2011 and holds investments including controlling stakes in 2 listed hospitality companies, African Sun and Dawn Properties, which are listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. It also has investments in GetBucks, GetCash, GetSure, MyBucks, Skyclear and FML Logistics and says approximately 38% of revenue is generated in hard currency.

Donna Nemer, Director: Capital Markets at the JSE, says the exchange is proud to welcome Brainworks to the South African market. “As Africa’s largest stock exchange, the JSE believes we can make an important contribution to the growth and the development of our continent. We do this through offering foreign investors a secure and transparent entry point into Africa and providing the companies who do business here with a liquid platform to raise further capital to fund their expansion.”

Nemer says the JSE also favours dual- or cross-listings, wherein debt or equity is listed simultaneously on the JSE and on a local market. “This assists companies from other African countries to gain access to a much larger capital pool and trade in a more liquid environment, while still allowing local market participation.”

Thanks to research contribution by Enko Capital, which invests in African opportunities.

African IPO pipeline includes $3bn Vivo Energy

Investors have been snapping up Africa-focused IPOs (initial public offers) of shares and more capital-raisings and stock-exchange listings are in the pipeline. Biggest of the upcoming African IPOs is a reported share offer by Vivo Energy, while miner AfriTin, investment and real estate company Cytonn and property company Hystead also said to be heading for the markets.

Earlier this month, Wall Street Journal reported that Netherlands-based Vivo Energy, which is licensed to distribute Shell fuel and lubricants in 16 African countries, is working with investment banks to act as underwriters. Its offer, planned for the London Stock Exchange, could value the company at $3 billion.

Vivo Energy (photo credit Vitol Africa)


Vivo was created in 2011 after Shell sold 80% of its downstream operations in 14 African countries to Dutch firm Vitol Africa BV and private equity fund Helios Investment Partners in a deal worth $1bn and then sold the balance to them for $250 million earlier this year. Vivo operates 1,800 Shell fuel stations and sells Shell-branded products such as liquefied petroleum gas and lubricants to aviation, marine and mining in 16 markets.

AfriTin is a newly formed tin company which is acquiring the tin assets of Bushveld Minerals in Namibia and South Africa and announced plans for a £2m ($2.6m) capital raise on the AIM market operated by the London Stock Exchange. The assets will include 85% of Uis Tin Project, the former workings of Uis mine in Namibia, and assets in South Africa including Mokopane and Zaaiplaats Tin Tailings project.

Pieter Prinsloo, CEO of South African real estate investment trust (REIT) Hyprop, focused on shopping centres, said it was looking to list UK subsidiary Hystead separately on the Johannesburg and Luxembourg stock exchanges in the first half of 2018, according to this news report. Hyprop owns 60% of Hystead, which has interests in 4 malls in Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria valued at EUR460m ($535m). Hyprop listed on the JSE in 1988 and has property assets in malls in South Africa, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria.

Kenya’s Cytonn Investment plc changed into a public company in August using a 2015 provision in the Companies Act. It said it plans to list 10m shares by introduction on the Growth Enterprise Market Segment (GEMS) of the Nairobi Securities Exchange in mid-2018. CEO Edwin Dande said on CNBC . It is not raising new capital but seeking to diversify sources of funding and increase corporate governance, transparency and accountability.

CampusKey houses 4,000 students in 6 locations in South Africa. It says it will list on th JSE when it gets to 10,000 beds and says this is on track for 2019.

Thanks to research contribution by Enko Capital, which invests in IPOs and other African opportunities.

More hires at leading Africa and frontier investment bank Exotix Capital

A leading emerging and frontier markets investment bank, Exotix Capital, continues to add senior hires in key African markets. Exotix has offices in London, New York, Dubai, Lagos and Nairobi and is a licensed stockbroker on both the Nigerian and Nairobi stock exchanges – and in July rated #1 with 24% market share in Nairobi. The hires, which take immediate effect, add to the strengthening of the team in recent months and new appointments across business lines and geographies to harness growing investor interest in the world’s highest-growth economies.

The past year has seen significant growth for Exotix across Africa’s equity capital markets both in clients and market share. In Kenya, Exotix has been steadily increasing month-on-month this year. In June the firm launched a Research, Analytics and Data division, by Paul Domjan, the former Chief Executive of Roubini Global Economics and Founder of Country Insights.

It has also been expanding its investment-banking reach in Africa, with particular focus on the energy, financial and consumer sectors. On 3 October, Exotix was one of the three deal managers, alongside JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, for the tender offer by Guaranty Trust Bank on its $400 million 2018 Eurobond.

The new appointments are
Serge Marston, currently Head of EMEA sales at NEX Markets, Serge Marston from NEX Markets as Non-Executive Director on Exotix’s Executive Management Board
Chiamaka Ezenwa, formerly at Morgan Stanley in London and FBN Capital in Lagos, as the new Head of Investment Banking West Africa
Mbithe Muema, previously with African Alliance Kenya, is appointed as Head of Equity Sales in Nairobi

CEO Duncan Wales says in a press release: “We are excited to have Serge, Chiamaka and Mbithe on board to help us take full advantage of the opportunity presented by our unique place in the world’s most exciting economies. Serge brings unparalleled expertise from his experience at the cutting edge of financial innovation.”

Marston is Head of EMEA sales at NEX Markets, a division within NEX Group that provides electronic trading technology services in the fixed income and foreign exchange markets. As Non-Executive Director he will work closely with CEO Duncan Wales and Chairman Mark Richards. Prior to joining NEX, he spent 19 years at Deutsche Bank in a variety of roles, most recently as Co-Head of Fixed Income, Currencies & Commodities, and e-Commerce Sales in the Global Markets division. NEX Group is a key shareholder of Exotix.

Ezenwa will be working with Andrew Moorfield (Natural Resources) and Fabrizio Ferrero (Financial Institutions), co-heads of Investment Banking at Exotix, and Esili Eigbe, Head of Equities, Africa, based in Lagos, to expand business in West Africa. She had previously spent 6 years at Morgan Stanley in London with primary focus on equity capital markets for Sub-Saharan Africa, the UK and Northern Europe, and the past 4 years in Lagos at FBN Capital, the investment-banking subsidiary of FBNH, Nigeria’s largest bank by total assets, most recently as Head of Equity Sales. She has originated and executed a variety of transactions across jurisdictions for international and Nigerian corporations.

According to Ferrero: “Chiamaka’s appointment enhances our investment bank offering in West Africa and overall in Sub-Saharan Africa through her extensive experience and relationships in the local markets. I am confident she will be a valuable addition to our team and further expand Exotix Capital’s investment banking footprint in the region.”

Muema was previously Head of Institutional Sales at African Alliance Kenya, where she was largely responsible for building the company’s local client base in the Nairobi office. She will lead Equity Sales further boosting Exotix’s position. She had previously worked at Renaissance Capital and Equity Bank as a research analyst and is currently on the board of the Konza Technopolis Development Authority in Kenya in a non-executive role, where she steers the business development committee. She will work closely with Eigbe and Debbie Rees, Global Head of Equity Sales.

Eigbe commented: “Mbithe has the necessary experience of markets in the region to support our commitment to expand Exotix’s business in Kenya and the wider region.”

Earlier in October Exotix appointed Matthew Pearson, former Head of Equities at ICBC Standard Bank, as Global Head of Equities, joining the firm’s Executive Committee, and Christopher Dielmann, formerly Research Analyst in the International Monetary Fund’s Strategy, Policy & Review Department, as Senior Economist with responsibility for markets including Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam.

Other new additions to the team include Rafael Elias, formerly Head of Emerging Markets Research and Strategy for Fixed Income at Cantor Fitzgerald, returning to Exotix to continue his core focus on Latin America as Corporate Credit Analyst, and Rex Nowell, who has successfully directed independent research sales and account management teams in the Americas, Europe and Asia for the past 20 years, most recently for Roubini Global Economics, joining Exotix in New York as Managing Director for New Client Development.

Exotix has also been expanding financials research with the hire of three new analysts last month inlcuding Temitope Ode, previously an analyst at Sankore Global Investments and before that at Goldman Sachs, joining Exotix’s Lagos office to cover financial companies. Faith Mwangi, formerly Senior Research Analyst at Genghis Capital, covering banking and media, and prior to that Investment Analyst at Standard Investment Bank, covers financials in East Africa after joining in August.

Exotix Capital says it “provides the most comprehensive and integrated cross-asset platform to penetrate the full capital structure in frontier and emerging markets.” Its analysts cover over 160 companies, more than any other frontier-markets firm, in emerging Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Americas. It is specialist in equity and fixed-income markets and the Exotix advisory team provides the full range of investment-banking services to companies, financial institutions, investment funds and governments. These include strategic advisory assignments from debt capital to private equity fund raising.

Serge Marston, Chiamaka Ezenwa and Mbithe Muema

UK regulator accused of dropping standards to woo $2 trillion listing

Investment institutions are protesting moves by the UK capital markets regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, to alter listing standards to accommodate a potential $2 trillion listing on the London Stock Exchange. Meanwhile rumours are growing that Saudi Aramco may be dropping its plans for a £1.5bn initial public offer on the New York, London or Tokyo Stock Exchange in addition to the Tadawul (Saudi Stock Exchange).

According to this article in the Financial Times, a trend towards “uber compliance” for listed securities means Aramco is thinking of selling shares to sovereign wealth funds, possibly led by China, as an alternative to a public listing which would have been the world’s largest float.

On 15 October, Aramco said the giant listing is still on: ““All listing venues under review for optimal decision, IPO process is on track for 2018”.

Plans for a giant £1.5bn ($2bn) initial public offering of only 5% of Aramco’s capital are a key part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which plans to wean the economy off reliance on oil, where it made up 90% of public revenues until 2014. However, in the short term it may signal Saudi intentions to use price-fixing cartel the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to push up oil prices and boost the valuation.

Outgoing LSE CEO Xavier Rolet accompanied British Prime Minister Theresa May for a visit to Aramco in April, while Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the FCA, agreed the regulator had met the potential listing candidate before a consultation on revising the listing standards. Many observers think there is political pressure on FCA and LSE to win the listing from New York and prove that London is still competitive as Brexit uncertainty and economic damage impacts UK.

Consultation on the FCA’s new listing rules closed on Friday 13 October. It would be the world’s largest float.

According to writer Nils Pratley in The Guardian: “Furious fund managers sense a bad case of a regulator planning to lower standards to suit ministers’ short-term desire to persuade Aramco to float in London rather than New York.

“The investors’ objection is straightforward: why on earth would we want to create a ‘premium’ listing category for state-owned companies while not enforcing normal investor protections?

“Under the FCA’s proposal, the likes of Aramco would be allowed to ignore some basic principles. They would not have to get approval from outside shareholders for transactions with the state. They would not have to give independent shareholders a vote on who should serve as independent directors.

“There clearly could be a place for such companies in London, but you would hardly award ‘premium’ status, a label that is meant to indicate the highest governance protections. The regulatory regime would look like a pushover, which may succeed in drumming up some short-term business but could seriously damage London’s status as a good place to invest.”

On 18 October, the world’s biggest wealth fund warned the FCA that the listing changes would be a “step back”, according to an article in City AM. Norges Bank Investmnet Management, part of the Norwegian Central bank which manages assets on behalf of Norway’s $1trn fund, which has $44bn invested in LSE companies, wrote on 13 October to FCA:

“Ultimately, investors expect today’s high standards of shareholder protection to apply to the premium listing category, whether controlled by a sovereign state or private investors. We fear that relaxing these rules would reduce the voice of minority investors and undermine the independence of the board.”

NBIM said the changes would be a “step back” in terms of investor protection, especially for minority shareholders, and would threaten the London Stock Exchange’s standing as a best in class corporate governance framework: “We believe the FCA should consider a more balanced approach that takes into consideration the interests of all stakeholders in the listing environment.” Other protests about relaxing the listing rules have come from a wide range of institutions, including the Institute of Directors and investor group the International Corporate Governance Network which said the plans were “fundamentally flawed” and increased risk. The Investment Association boss Chris Cummings said the change: “could impact on London’s reputation and future as one of the world’s leading financial centres”.

FCA’s Bailey had told Parliament that people would not need to invest in the new listing if they did not like the governance. According to this article , he wrote: “We do not think protections for investors will be weakened. Plainly, absent the new category, sovereign-controlled companies would be unable to choose a premium listing; they would therefore not be bound by any of the premium listing requirements that might otherwise offer additional protection for investors.”

Bailey said some criticism of the proposal left the “incorrect impression that the premium listing is monolithic in form, and therefore, that any issuer included in that category must also be included in the main FTSE UK index”. Financial services advocacy group The CityUK supported the FCA’s “open-minded approach to regulatory change”.

Ashley Hamilton Claxton, corporate governance manager at Royal London Asset Management, said it will be “bad news” for London if the proposals are put in place: “It looks like the FCA is consulting on amending the existing listing rules to accommodate the peculiarities of one company, which is not a very effective strategy for regulating the market as a whole. If the proposals in this consultation document are implemented, it will be bad news for London and will reverse the progress we have made in recent years to uphold strong governance and protect minority shareholders.”

According to the Financial Times: “A market regulator that makes transparent and fair rules, respecting both property rights and investor choice, will attract business in the long run. If, on the other hand, attracting business becomes a short-term goal, and rules are tailored to land big deals, regulation becomes marketing, and the long-term outlook becomes much less attractive.”

Saudi Aramco says its 2018 listing is on track (photo Reuters/Ali Jarekji)

Egypt is Africa’s new #1 investment destination

The challenge for African economies is to adapt to commodity slowdown and sluggish production growth. Many countries have suffered stress in the past three years, and the latest report from a leading investment bank suggests the new winners – and who is lagging. Rand Merchant Bank’s (RMB) Where to Invest in Africa 2018 report shows changes in the top investment destinations in Africa.

South Africa is off the top spot, edged aside by Egypt, and Nigeria and Algeria have crashed out of the top 10. The theme is “money talks” and focuses on major sources of dollar revenues, important income-generators and investment opportunities.

But the report compares 191 global jurisdictions and measures African against country groupings. African countries are still at the lower end of the global-performance spectrum, which is still dominated by the US, UK, Australia and Germany.

In Africa, according to the RMB press release, there is a new pharaoh in town: “Egypt (#1) displaced South Africa (#2) largely because of its superior economic activity score and sluggish growth rates in South Africa, which have deteriorated markedly over the past seven years. South Africa also faces mounting concerns over issues of institutional strength and governance though in South Africa’s favour are its currency, equity and capital markets which are still a cut above the rest, with many other African nations facing liquidity constraints.

“Morocco (#3) retained its third position for a third consecutive year having benefitted from a greatly enhanced operating environment since the Arab Spring which began in 2010. Surprisingly, Ethiopia (#4), a country dogged by socio-political instability, displaced Ghana (#5) to take fourth spot mostly because of its rapid economic growth, having brushed past Kenya as the largest economy in East Africa. Ghana’s slide to fifth position was mostly due to perceptions of worsening corruption and weaker economic freedom.

“Kenya (#6) holds firm in the top 10 at number six. Despite being surpassed by Ethiopia, investors are still attracted by Kenya’s diverse economic structure, pro-market policies and brisk consumer spending growth. A host of business-friendly reforms aimed at rooting out corruption and steady economic growth helped Tanzania (#7) climb by two places to number seven. Rwanda (#8) re-entered the top 10 having spent two years on the periphery, helped by being one of the fastest reforming economies in the world, high real growth rates and its continuing attempt to diversify its economy.

“At number nine, Tunisia (#9) has made great strides in advancing political transition while an improved business climate has been achieved by structural reforms, greater security and social stability. Cote d’Ivoire (#10) slipped two places to take up the tenth position. Although its business environment scoring is still relatively low, its government has made significant strides in inviting investment into the country leading to a strong increase in foreign direct investment over the years resulting in one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

“For the first time, Nigeria (#13) does not feature in the top 10, with its short-term investment appeal having been eroded by recessionary conditions. Uganda is steadily closing in on the top 10 though market activity is likely to remain subdued after a tumultuous 2016 marred by election-related uncertainty, a debilitating drought and high commercial lending rates.

“Though Botswana, Mauritius and Namibia are widely rated as investment grade economies, they do not feature in the top 10 mostly because of the relatively small sizes of their markets – market size has been a key consideration in the report’s methodology.”

RMB Africa analysts spoke on economic trends:

Neville Mandimika: “The last three years have sounded an alarm, amplifying what is now a dire need for the economies of Africa to shift their focus from traditional sources of income to other viable alternatives.”

Celeste Fauconnier: “Over the past three years, some African governments have had to implement deep and painful budget cuts, announce multiple currency devaluations and adopt hawkish monetary policy stances – all as a result of a significant drop in traditional revenues.”

Nema Ramkhelawan-Bhana: “Some countries have been more nimble and effective than others in managing shortfalls,” says and an author of the report. “But major policy dilemmas have ensued, forcing governments to balance economically prudent solutions with what is politically palatable.”

Where to Invest in Africa 2018 also includes 191 jurisdictions around the world, and measures Africa’s performance relative to other country groupings. The report is available via: www.rmb.co.za/globalmarkets/where-to-invest-in-africa-2018-edition.

Runaway gains continue as Zimbabwe Stock Exchange soars

Zimbabwe Stock exchange continues to soar, with gains of 9.3% yesterday (14 September) in its industrial index which closed at 379.95, after climbing 10.3% on 13 September, its biggest one-day gain according to the Herald newspaper. Market capitalization by close of 14 September was US$10.7bn.

The industrial index opened the year at 144.53, so it has more than doubled with 163% gain. The mining index has climbed from 58.51 to close 14 September at 84.65, up 45%. Most of the gain in the industrial index comes in the last 3 months, as shown on African Markets website.

Turnover was $5.2m on 14 September, with foreigners buying $1.5m and selling $4.3m in 162 trades, according to the excellent ZSE website . Meanwhile the Herald newspaper reported turnover on 13 September at $9.0m was one of the highest for the year with foreigners selling $3.5m worth of shares and buying just above $104,000.

Biggest volume on 14 September was in Delta Corporation, which traded $2.0m worth of shares as the price climbed 44 cents (19.9%) to $2.6656 after hitting a year high of $2.6675. On 13 September it had climbed 13% in $2.37m worth of trading, according to the Herald. Barclays Bank traded $1.1m with a price gain of 0.52 cents to close at $0.0852, up 6.5%. Other strong gains were brickmaker Willdale, up 27% in the day to 1 cent ($0.0100) after climbing 58% on 13 September. CBZ Holdings, First Mutual Properties and Nampak Zimbabwe which each scored 20% gain, while Old Mutual was up 19.9%.

Starafricacorproation climbed 14% to close at 2.5 cents ($0.0250) after a reported 67% gain on 13 September, Other top risers on 13 September, according to the Herald, were agribusiness Ariston up 52%, Zimre Property Investment up 37% and hotelier African Sun up 20%.

Seed Co is reportedly seeking to raise $30m and list on a regional exchange. Fast foods retailer Simbisa brands continues to trade under cautionary that it plans to list on the London Stock Exchange AIM board.

A week ago the rally was already in full swing as the ZSE market capitalization reached $8bn and the industrial index hit 286.63. The Herald reported on 11 September “Local investors have been buying into the equity market as a hedge against currency uncertainties and shortages. Most cash-rich Zimbabwean companies and individuals have been failing to access their cash locked in banks due to foreign currency shortages. Business, especially manufacturers and mines, have also been struggling to make foreign payments since the foreign currency shortages intensified at the beginning of 2016. This is the cash that is now being deployed into the stock market, considered a safe haven by many.”

The newspaper reported one investor worried that cash holdings at the banks, even in foreign currency, would not represent fair value “Investors are thus looking at hedging against this loss of value by buying into stocks.”

This web report on Charles Rukuni’s Insider Zim also worries that it is a rerun of 2007: “A stock market running on fumes and not any real fundamentals, a currency crisis and signs of inflation? We have seen this all before. In 2007, just like today, the ZSE became the world’s best performing market. Shares were up close to 600% by mid-year in 2007. Year-on-year, by April 2007, the stock market had risen a massive 12,000%. We now know it was all a deception; it was only going up because investors had nowhere else to put their Zimbabwe dollars, whose worth was evaporating fast. Then, as now, it did not matter that a company was performing badly.”

Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) CEO resigns

The CEO of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX), Ermias Eshetu, has tendered his resignation, according to a report in Ethiopia’s English weekly newspaper The Reporter. He will stay until a successor is found.

His decision took people by surprise, as he was publicizing the new working procedures he was planning to introduce in ECX. The resignation came after a stringent evaluation by the Board, which lasted the whole day. “The evaluation dwelled on the performance of the trading floor (ECX) and on the issue of who should leave and who should remain in office. The CEO tendered his resignation letter in the wake of the in-depth evaluation,” sources told The Reporter. It is part of Government efforts “to identify the weaknesses of ECX and reform the organization”.

The ECX management declined to comment to The Reporter.

The ECX was founded by agricultural economist Eleni Gabre-Madhin in 2008. Ermias had joined the ECX in January 2015, taking over from Anteneh Abraham, former vice president of Abyssinia Bank, who had resigned due to illness.

Electronic trading on ECX began in July 2015 and by January 2017 had replaced 89% of the open outcry trading, using a bespoke software built by Ethiopian engineers. According to a news report, ECX had started commissioning e-trading centres in different regions, including 3 set to be operational in the second quarter of 2017 and 4 were to follow. In the 2015-16 fiscal year (to July), the exchange traded 632,000 metric tons of commodities, worth ETB23 bn. They trained 760 users.

Ermias, 42, previously served Zemen Bank as Vice President for Marketing and Corporate Services since 2007. He lived for 20 years in UK, gaining technical and leadership experience at firms such as global IT giants IBM, Alcatel, Orange and MicroStrategy. He has a Master’s degree in international business from University of Manchester Management Business School and a Bachelor’s with honours in Computation from University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

Ermias Eshetu (photo from http://innovation-village.com)

Do African commodities exchanges achieve the desired results?

The Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) was set up with backing from the Ethiopian Government. In a very readable 2012 paper by the founder and first CEO Eleni Gabre-Madhin outlining the origins, aims and implementation of ECX, she mentions the Government backing in replacing laws so that trade in commodities including coffee (which makes up 35% of Ethiopia’s exports from 2000-2014), has to go through the exchange, and the determined resistance from those who had previously dominated the export trade.

Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (photo from http://africabusinesscommunities.com)

She mentions funding: “Five initial donors — the US Agency for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency, the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the United Nations Development Programme — committed US$9.2 million in just two weeks. This figure grew over the years as commitments increased. The World Food Programme and the European Union joined the list, and donor funding eventually reached US$29 million.” Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is mentioned in later articles as a donor.

Since the early days of ECX, payment has been guaranteed the day after purchase and there is a proud record of zero defaults (as on nearly all regulated exchanges worldwide). This is a big change on earlier problems faced by farmers and others with many buyers reneging on contracts. In addition Eleni’s aimed that the exchange should transform agricultural marketing countrywide, and she oversaw the construction of a host of modern regional warehouses and transport.

On the negative side, a news report in January 2017 in local The Reporter newspaper mentions ECX users reporting problems including increasing contraband and quality compromises by bribing the “cuppers” who grade the commodities.

A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in May 2017 suggests that with regard to coffee, the ECX had not brought enough transformation: “Before the establishment of the ECX, Ethiopia had a fairly well-functioning coffee auction floor in Addis Ababa… Second, the strict regulations that the ECX has introduced into the country’s coffee market have resulted in higher transaction costs. These costs could potentially cancel out the benefits of some of the ECX’s innovations, such as electronic payment systems. Finally, the Ethiopian coffee sector continues to face some inherent challenges that are not affected by the ECX—namely, weak infrastructure and low productivity”.

In February 2017 The Economist published an article about African commodity exchanges dubbing them “high tech, low impact”. It noted that ECX had not moved beyond spot trading since 2008 and futures contracts to help farmers manage price fluctuations are far behind the 5-year target.

The Economist verdict: “The Government made it viable by mandating that almost all trade in coffee and some other commodities go through the exchange. This might not be possible elsewhere. A monopoly imposed by fiat makes it more like a state marketing board than an exchange, says Thomas Jayne, an economist at Michigan State University.

“Another model might be the Agricultural Commodity Exchange for Africa in Malawi, which was set up privately in 2006 at the request of an association of smallholder farmers. But its volumes remain low. And its concentration on staple foods such as maize and soya leaves it vulnerable to the sort of government interventions that can sink exchanges. Trading in staples tends to be politically sensitive in times of food scarcity.

“Setting up national exchanges may be the wrong approach. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange plans to introduce a regional contract for Zambian white maize later this year. For lucrative export crops like coffee, well-established offshore exchanges may make more sense than starting from scratch at home. Better a functioning exchange somewhere else than a disappointing one on the doorstep.”

Strate’s CEO Monica Singer steps down to focus on blockchain

Monica Singer, the former CEO of South African central securities depository Strate, stepped down at the end of August 2017. Monica had been the project manager of Strate since its inception, and has led the organization for nearly 20 years. She will concentrate full time on blockchain.

Maria Vermaas, who has been Head of the Legal and Regulatory Division since the start of Strate, has been appointed as Interim CEO. The long-standing executive team will continue to drive strategic objectives, according to an announcement from Strate, which adds that Monica is leaving “to fulfil her dream of living in Cape Town and to pursue new opportunities”.

“Monica’s entrepreneurial spirit, together with her visionary leadership” drove the introduction of electronic settlement for South Africa’s financial markets. Strate is proud of “being a Conscious Company that creates shared value for all stakeholders” and globally recognized as one of the most progressive CSDs.

Monica says (in the statement): “I have always had a passion for innovation and technology that drives societal change. With the potential disruption that the financial markets may face, particularly with disruptive technologies like blockchain, I will continue to research to stay ahead of developments which may lead me to consulting on these topics.”

She has been key in several networks that share ideas internationally including as Vice President of the Africa & Middle East Depositories Association (AMEDA), over 18 years in the International Securities Services Association (ISSA), World Forum of CSDs (WFC) and Americas’ Central Securities Depositories Association (ACSDA).

Strate Chairman Rob Barrow, comments: “The Board, together with the Executive team and staff, would like to thank Monica for her contribution to Strate and the legacy that she has left behind. We would like to wish her all the best for her future endeavours.”

Full time in blockchain
According to this news story by Michael de Castillo on Coindesk, Monica is devoting her considerable energies “to dedicate her career to bringing blockchain to industries from finance and insurance to medicine and retail”.

Monica Singer: Blockchain is coming and its going to change the world (Photocredit: coindesk)

“In her first conversation with the media since her resignation, Singer explained how she believes the tech could help her finally cut out what she describes as ‘unnecessary middlemen.’

“Singer told CoinDesk: ‘I’m so in love with blockchain, that the only thing I’m doing, all the time, is telling the world, “Guys, wake up! This is coming, and this is going to change the world.”’ According to the story, Monica will use her global contacts to widen her interest beyond the financial sector. The article mentions ethereum startup ConsenSys and digital ledger startup Ripple among the “fintech” companies Monica is interested in working with.

She still believes CSDs can provide important services, even if blockchain means they will “not have a role to play” in the blockchain world. She is set to speak at the Sibos banking conference in October on blockchain in the cash and securities settlement space and at the World Federation of CSDs in Hong Kong in November.

It quotes her saying: “I love saying to people: ‘Give me a brief description of your industry.’ I can quickly tell them in which way that industry will be affected by this new, incredible technology. So, that’s what I need to do.

“I was the person who moved South Africa’s financial markets from paper to digital.. When I discovered blockchain, I thought this is exactly what we need in the world.”

Brief history of clearing and settlement in South Africa
Johannesburg Stock Exchange rang the final bell on 108 years of open-outcry trading on 7 June 1996. Most recently trading had been in a huge hall at the bottom of its then headquarters in Diagonal Street, so the noise of trading filled the whole building when the market got busy. From market open on 10 June all equity trading has been on the automated Johannesburg Equity Trading system. As volumes increased, stockbroker back offices talked about “how many feet of work do you have?” referring to the huge piles of share certificates and transfer forms stacked high on desks, while the motorcycle delivery drivers at the back of Diagonal Street and Kerk Street, Johannesburg, got ever busier.

Electronic clearing and settlement were urgently needed but the banks that dominate this aspect of capital markets had each invested in their own systems. They had further formed the Bond Market Association to create a self-regulating bond exchange in 1990 and had worked with the South African Reserve Bank the same year to form UNEXcor to set up an electronic settlement system using a CSD. The first fully electronic settlement through UNEXcor and the CSD (called CD Ltd) had been on 26 October 1995.

Monica, famous for long-term vision backed by unstoppable energy, was brought in to break the logjam and move the market forward in 1998. Gold-mining group Harmony was the first equity on the JSE to move to full dematerialization of securities in 1999 and the whole market followed in orderly stages.

According to a brochure by Strate a few years ago: “The transition to an efficient electronic-settlement system increased market activity and improved the international perception of the South African market by reducing settlement and operational risk in the market, increasing efficiency and ultimately reducing costs. Accordingly, by heightening investor appeal, Strate has enabled South Africa to compete effectively with other international markets and not just those of emerging markets.

“Since 2000, Strate has used the South African Financial Instruments Real-time Electronic Settlement system (SAFIRES), an adaptation of the Swiss securities settlement system (SECOM), operated by SIX SIS Ltd, to continuously provide investors with secure and efficient settlement of equities.”

UNEXcor merged with Strate in 2003 and as the platform became more aged, Strate began market consultation to replace the technology and move to a Securities Ownership Register for bonds.

Participants set up the Money Market Forum in 2002 for dematerialization of money-market securities and awarded the contract to do this to UNEXcor, which devolved to Strate after the merger. After extensive market consultation, Strate developed the business requirement and employed Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to develop the code. Successful testing was completed on 1 October 2008 and Rand Merchant Bank issued the first electronic security to Strate via FirstRand Bank in November 2008. Electronic settlement of newly issued money market securities began in the second half of 2009.

The latest transformation was the switch to T+3 settlement across the South African capital market, carried out successfully on 11 July 2016 and profiled on this blog.

Kenya election results – early stockbroker comment

Hasnain Malik, Global Head of Equities Research at the specialist frontier markets investment bank Exotix Capital, comments:

“Kenyatta’s provisional win will soothe those investors who feared a leftist shift in economic policy. But the most important issues are ahead of us: Does Odinga concede peacefully? His initial rhetoric suggests there is a risk he does not. The key point then is whether Odinga looks to the courts for review, as in the 2013 scenario, mobilizes protesters, which would bring risks of a 2008 type scenario, or concedes defeat.

“Next, from a financial markets perspective, focus will shift to whether Kenyatta’s coalition has established a sufficient majority in Parliament and among the governors to repeal the interest rate cap law.

“Odinga’s own coalition allies may view his third loss at the polls as a chance to supercede him for the next election.”