(Dow Jones) If they remade the movie "Out of Africa" for investors, they might need to rename it "Into Africa."
Consider that Ian Bremmer, author of The End of the Free Market and president of Eurasia Group, suggested in a recent speech that Africa, especially South Africa, offers one of the best investment opportunities in the world today.
Also consider: More than a few companies are experiencing or seeing growth opportunities in Africa. For instance, Coca-Cola Co. (KO) just reported that its growth was primarily driven by emerging markets, with volume growing 12% in the Eurasia and Africa segment.
Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY) said profits rose to $1.2 billion in the third quarter, up about 28% from a year ago, in large part because of increased production volumes from, you guessed it, the Middle East/North Africa.
And Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) is plunking $4.6 billion into Massmart, an African retailer with 290 stores, most of which are in South Africa.
It is a trend all right. The only question now is whether it is too late to take advantage of what's happening.
For his part, Philippe de Pontet, a director at Eurasia Group, says Africa is largely a play on commodities, including gold, oil, coal, copper, bauxite, platinum, palladium, at the moment. But that's not the only story, he said. Beverage sales are up and telecommunications, as in cell phones, are hot. "In a continent without reliable landlines, mobile phone technology can be a game changer," he said.
Others, too, can rattle off reasons why it isn't too late to place a bet on Africa. Vested interest aside, Larry Seruma, chief investment officer of Nile Capital Management, which manages the U.S.-based Nile Pan Africa mutual fund, recently issued his reasons for investing in Africa.
One, unlike, Brazil, India, Russia and China, and perhaps other countries, Africa is truly a ground-floor opportunity, Seruma wrote in his report. Two, the African indexes are not highly correlated with the S&P 500. Three, strong growth is expected but valuations are still attractive. According to projections from the World Bank, nine of the 15 countries in the world with the highest rate of five-year economic growth are in Africa but price/earnings ratios are in some cases one-half that of the S&P 500, Seruma said.
What's more, there are more than a few well-known companies based in Africa that are profitable, including South African Breweries, a subsidiary of SABMiller PLC (SAB.JO, SBMRY). Demand for commodities is growing and the continent is increasingly less violent, Seruma wrote. And then add to his laundry list the fact that China and other countries are pouring money into Africa, infrastructure spending is on the rise, sovereign debt is low as the demographics tilt young.
How To Make The Play
So what are some ways to take advantage of this possible opportunity?
One route would be to invest in the multinationals that already have operations in Africa, such as Nestle SA (NESN.VX, NSRGY) and Unilever PLC (UL, ULVR.LN). Or you might consider firms setting up operations be it through acquisitions or other means, including HSBC Holdings PLC (HBC, HSBA.LN), which is taking a stake in South Africa's NedBank Group Ltd. (NDBKY, NED.JO), or Japan's Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT, 9432.TO), which is buying Dimension Data Holdings PLC (DDT.JO), a South African information-technology concern.
The safer and perhaps more direct route would be to invest in ETFs or mutual funds. We've already mentioned Nile Pan Africa fund (NAFAX), which is a relatively new fund with less than $2 million in assets and a hefty front-end sales charge. There's also Templeton Frontier Markets (TFMAX), which isn't a pure play on Africa.
And then there are at least three exchanged-traded funds to consider, according to Michael Rawson, a chartered financial analyst and ETF analyst with Morningstar Inc.: the Market Vectors Africa Index ETF (AFK), the iShares MSCI South Africa Index (EZA) and SPDR S&P Emerging Middle East & Africa (GAF)).
According to Rawson, EZA is by far the most liquid with $700 million in assets under management. The fund's top holdings include Mtn Group Ltd. (MTN.JO, MTNOY), a South Africa-based telecommunications company that offers cellular network access with its core operations in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East; Sasol Ltd. (SOL.JO, SSL), an energy firm based in South Africa; Standard Bank Group Ltd. (SBGOY, SBK.JO), one of South Africa's four big banks; Naspers Ltd. (NPN.JO, NPSNY), a media group primarily in South Africa; and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. (AU, ANG.JO), one of the world's largest gold producers.
"AFK is the least liquid, but it still has decent liquidity with $79 million in assets under management and $500,000 trading daily on average," said Rawson. "It is also the most diverse in terms of its country allocation, in part because it includes non-African companies that have significant business in Africa, such as Tullow Oil and Old Mutual PLC."
And that, according to Rawson, results in about 25% of the fund invested in stocks with headquarters outside of Africa. Other top holdings include: Orascom Construction Industries SAE (OCIC.CI), Commercial International Bank Ltd. (CIBEY, COMI.CI), Nigerian Breweries PLC (NB.LA) and Mobile Telecommunication Co. Of note, AFK follows the Dow Jones Africa Titans 50 index, which is up 14% year to date. AFK is up 16% year to date.
GAF, meanwhile, is a bit like EZA. Its top holdings are Naspers Ltd., Mtn Group Limited, Sasol Ltd., AngloGold Ashanti Limited, and Standard Bank Group Ltd.
There is also another play on Africa, according to Rawson. It is a currency ETF focused on the South African rand.
To be sure, you want to be ahead of the trends when it comes to investing. Then again, this is one case where it might be worth hopping on the train since it isn't too far from the station.
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