Mobius remains bullish on Nairobi Securities Exchange, says FT

Mark Mobius, the veteran emerging markets investor and head of Templeton Emerging Markets (www.franklintempleton.com), is bullish about the Nairobi Securities Exchange (www.nse.co.ke), although it is the worst-performing stock market in sub-Saharan Africa this year, according to an article on 27 October in the UK’s Financial Times.
According to the article, by Katrina Manson: “A long-term investor, Mr Mobius makes his money from yo-yoing frontier markets. Kenya’s has see-sawed between losses of 41.4% after post-election violence in 2008 to best sub-Saharan performer excluding South Africa last year, with a rise of 28.3%. Domestic investors tend to have both less money and less time to play with.” She also cites Aly-Khan Satchu, chief executive of Rich Management (www.rich.co.ke), a Kenyan financial services firm as saying the 2011 collapse is a “rout”. Domestic confidence is low, including among many of the 800,000 people who invested into Safaricom’s 532% subscribed IPO (KSh5 in the 2008 IPO, KSh3.05 at present).
Kenya has seen currency weakness, foreign capital flight, high inflation (it was 17% in September) and drought. The NSE has seen big cuts in volumes and much less participation by foreigners, who used to dominate trading, partly because of a global flight from risky assets. Share price indices have slid, losing the strong gains of 2010. Local investors see better gains from bonds, real estate and family firms.
The IPO of British American Investment Company Kenya only achieved 60% of its target (as reported on this website) and Kenya Airways seems to be holding back a share offer in which it wanted to raise $250 million for expansion. According to the article, Satchu said: “You can’t be issuing IPOs that flunk at the first hurdle. There has not been a successful IPO since Safaricom and that has impaired the stock market. They need a flagship discounted offer and will languish until they do it. Right now, the government couldn’t raise tuppence.”
The also article quotes Stella Kilonzo, head of the Capital Markets Authority (www.cma.or.ke), as blaming the stressed economy. She says there have been 3 years of reforms to boost disclosure and set more stringent requirements and these will eventually pay off. This year the NSE was renamed a “securities” rather than “stock” exchange in anticipation of a new bond index, futures and derivatives trading, exchange-traded funds and a new small and medium sized business index among others. If these come into operation, diversification could help the market.
There is still a cloud over the bourse from a scandal after stockbroking firms collapsed owing their clients money, some after allegedly trading their clients’ money illegally. No-one has yet gone to prison although court cases continue, and not everyone has been compensated, partly because the compensation fund does not have enough resources. Ms Kilonzo says regulation is now tighter.
Reportedly, a court case against the CMA by a collapsed brokerage firm that has been under statutory management since 2007 last month halted a plan to demutualize the NSE, including selling part of it and listing its shares on the Nairobi bourse. According to some analysts, demutualisation could help clean up the market by separating stockbrokers from the exchange’s owners.
Sentiment may be changing, after the Central Bank of Kenya (www.centralbank.go.ke) moved aggressively to push up interest rates by 4 percentage points this month, which may stabilize the currency and bring back investors. Good rains and strong investment in infrastructure could fund growth in 2012, although worries remain about elections.
Manson quotes Mobius: “People are fearful of coming in, so whoever goes there makes a bundle. We may go and buy more at a cheaper price.” The Frontier Markets Fund is invested in Kenya Airways and Safaricom.

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