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Turbulence continued in Botswana following Moody’s downgrade of sovereign debt last week from stable to negative. The ratings service projected a prolonged decline in demand for diamonds and thus continued pressure on the state’s coffers. Botswana will run a deficit of 12.2 percent of GDP in 2010/11, per its Finance Minister Kenneth Matambo. To that extent, the firm warned that “the government’s ratings would likely be downgraded to A3 upon the failure to stem the deterioration in its net asset position over the medium term,” and that “fiscal consolidation and economic diversification will be ever more vital to preserve the country’s economic strength as the depletion of diamond resources approaches over the coming decades.”
Diamonds once accounted for over $3b (roughly 50%) of annual revenue for the country, with the U.S. and Japan demanding the lion’s share of product. While analysts predict the demand for luxury goods will be restored (though likely aided by an increase in demand from emerging countries rather than a complete bounceback from developed ones), the recovery will take time. Furthermore, Botswana’s government admits that its gem production capabilities may only have another ten years or so of viability. In the meantime, the government is looking to diversify its economy while concurrently attempting to realize growth. Its central bank left benchmark rates unchanged, stating that its four interest-rate cuts last year were adequate to spur economic growth and that forward-looking inflationary pressures were benign.
According to Bruce Powers, a Dubai-based technical analyst and financial commentator, “it seems like investors have now distinguished between Dubai’s problems and [those of] Abu Dhabi.”
On a relative basis the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange General Index (ADI) has been showing strength compared with the Dubai Financial Market General Index (DFMGI). That strength is likely to continue into the foreseeable future barring conclusion of Dubai’s debt restructuring. Although there are similarities in the chart patterns of each market, the ADI has broken through its downtrend line resistance level while the DFMGI remains below it.
Herd-caused contagion afflicted the perception of risks for assets across the Gulf last fall on worries about possible Dubai-related defaults, as well as questions over the emirate’s vision for its long-term financing. At their peak, even credit default swaps for five-years bonds jumped 177 basis points for Abu Dhabi, and 119 for Qatar, respectively, despite no apparent concern per se over the strength or volatility of their cash flows. Analysts noted, for instance, that Qatar has the world’s second largest gas reserves, and oil-rich Abu Dhabi has the biggest sovereign wealth fund, worth approximately $700bn.
Per its recent news release, “(EGPT) is the 24th ETF offered under Van Eck’s Market Vectors brand and joins the firm’s growing international equity lineup, which includes Market Vectors ETFs focused on Africa (AFK), Brazil Small-Cap (BRF), the Gulf States (MES), Indonesia (IDX), Poland (PLND), Russia (RSX) and Vietnam (VNM). Van Eck also offers hard assets, specialty and fixed income ETFs and, as of the end of 2009, was the sixth largest ETF provider in the U.S. with over $12.0 billion in ETF assets under management.”
The fund will roughly track the Market Vectors Egypt Index and its ten largest holdings at present include: Commercial International Bank 8.6%, Orascom Construction Industries 7.9%, Orascom Telecom Holding SAE 7.6%, Egyptian Financial Group-Hermes Holding 6.3%, Egyptian Kuwaiti Holding Co 5.9%, Talaat Moustafa Group 5.5%, Egyptian Co for Mobile Services 5.3%, Elswedy Cables Holding Co 5.29%, Al Ezz Steel Rebars SAE 5.0%, and Telecom Egypt 4.8%. As one observer noted, EGPT’s underlying index consists of 28 companies and has 5.47% dividend yield, meaning that even after subtracting the expense ratio (capped at 0.94%), the fund may be able to generate a dividend yield in excess of 4%.
Egypt’s EGX30 Index has been Africa’s best performer YTD, rising nearly 12%, and there are a plethora of reasons to be bullish on the country in the long term. As one article from last December contrasting the country’s steady growth with the boom and bust of Dubai reiterated:
Egypt has spent years reforming its banking sector and attempting to increase investment from companies abroad. The Central Bank has tightened banking regulations, while the government has cut red tape on trade. It has also embarked on massive infrastructure projects, such as building a modern international terminal to serve the Cairo airport and beginning construction on a third subway line.
The Egyptian stock market has unveiled new indexes, grouping different companies together to make their performance easier to track and to encourage trading. The initiatives paid off. In 2008, the World Bank ranked Egypt as one of the top 10 reformers worldwide in their ease of “Doing Business” report.
The country’s economy grew 4.7% in the last fiscal year, down from 8% the year before. But that is still higher than many developing economies such as Turkey, which grew only 1.1% in 2008 and is expected to shrink 5% in 2009, according to the IMF. Egypt is predicted to grow another 5% this year.
A report this week quoted the country’s Economic Development Minister Osman Mohamed Osman, who predicted that Egypt’s economy, spurred by rising exports, might grow by 5.5% in fiscal 2010/11 and attract up to $10 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI). That said, diminishing demand from the U.S. and Europe might make the figure hard to reach. The rub lies within Gulf economies that may pick up the slack. In essence, therefore, it may be asserted that an investment in Egyptian markets is a proxy on continued fiscal strength and cash flows coming from the Gulf. “As long as there are current account surpluses [in the GCC economies], I think Egypt will continue to benefit from the flows,” says London-based Ahmet Akarli, a senior economist for Turkey and the Middle East at Goldman Sachs. “These flows could go into all sorts of different investment opportunities – they could be FDI, they could be portfolio inflows [investors buying stocks the Egyptian exchange] – it really depends on what Egypt can offer. It’s hard to say where the money will end up being utilized, but it’s clear that Egypt will be, among others, an important destination.”
A new corporate governance code comes into effect this April in the UAE and attempts to “introduce internationally accepted corporate governance rules into the realm of commercial companies” in the emirate. For instance, listed companies will be compelled to disclose more details about their board members, such as whether or not they are concurrently serving on the boards of other joint stock companies. Analysts note that the new legislation may ultimately help realize higher market valuations by improving disclosure standards and thereby addressing one form of investor uncertainty.
Leopard Capital, which we profiled in the past, will take to the road in March to raise funds for both of its Sri Lankan-oriented funds–the Sri Lankan Fund LP, “a 10 year private equity fund targeting US$100 million [that] will primarily take minority positions in unlisted companies, targeting post-war growth sectors such as tourism, food processing, fisheries, consumer products, and retailing,” as well as a Value Fund, which will hold “both a core portfolio of smaller, overlooked ‘deep value’ stocks, and a trading portfolio of blue chips.” Both funds will be run by its newly formed Sri Lankan division. The firm also recently announced that Jim Rogers, the Singapore-based investor, author and commodity permabull, will join Marc Faber on the firm’s advisory council. That’s a pretty nice duo to headline your pitchbook.
Following the resounding reelection of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in late January–a surprising affair to many observers both in its relative peacefulness and its marked decisiveness–optimism is abundant for the long-time, civil war plagued island. As The Economist noted:
The economy, buffeted by a slump in garment exports and tourism because of the war, is perking up. This year the country is expected to see some 600,000 foreign tourists, compared with 500,000 last year. The New York Times has named Sri Lanka its top tourist destination for 2010. Annual remittances, mostly from hardworking Sri Lankans in Arab countries, have rebounded from a minor slump to around $3 billion. Last year the Sri Lankan stockmarket more than doubled in value, making it one of the best-performing in the world. Food prices remain punishingly high, yet inflation is down. The economy is expected to grow by around 6% this year.
Leopard, writing in its latest newsletter, agrees.
The [election’s] decisive outcome assures policy continuity for the numerous important infrastructure projects underway across Sri Lanka, including deep sea ports, power plants, dams, highways, railroads and airports. Most of these projects are being funded on concessionary terms by external donors such as China, India, Japan, and the ADB, providing billions of dollars of assistance for a country of just 20 million people.
Unnoticed by most global investors, this mini “Marshall Plan” will turbo-charge Sri Lanka’s economic efficiency and productivity, powering top-quartile economic growth for the next couple decades. Other domestic growth catalysts include the reintegration of the cut-off North and East provinces into the national economy, the return of tourists, the sharp decline of local interest rates and the reawakening of Sri Lanka’s hibernating capital markets. A massive private investment cycle is gathering force as business confidence ratchets higher and boardroom priorities shift from controlling costs to capturing fresh opportunities. We encourage you all to visit Colombo and sense the local optimism first-hand; it may be Winter in the West but it is Spring in Sri Lanka.
Long-term, two seemingly perpetual problems remain, however, which investors should factor in to whatever return they might seek on any capital they may invest. One, the ethnic divisions between Tamils and Sinhalese remain. Two, executive power remains separate from parliament and should (arguably) be returned, an outcome that rests on Mr. Rajapaksa’s desire to subvert his own power. To that extent, future division between political and ethnic parties may well reside on the strength and relevance of a main opposition party, which in and of itself will likely be a factor of how well Tamil and Muslim factions can negotiate and compromise. That said, there is little standing in the way of short term market acceleration, especially with a central bank committed to facilitating the President’s desire to see 7% growth in 2010. The country’s exports rose 6.4% in December to $723.4 million after a yearlong decline, while the central bank kept key benchmark rates unchanged and at a five-year low.
Citigroup Global Markets strategist Andrew Howell was on Bloomberg this past week discussing investing in frontier markets. Howell highlights Kazahkstan in particular as exemplifying the broader frontier story: relatively low valuations despite abundant resources and low debt, with (thus far) a smoother return and less risk correlation than developed indices or the BRICs, despite the fact that most frontiers in general rely on said economies for the bulk of their trade and capital flows. Howell concludes that frontier markets, which trade at 13.1x earnings, are not “stretched” relative to other emerging markets that trade above 20x earnings. As to a less commodity driven market such as Croatia, Howell points to financial services as a sector to watch, given the imment rise of credit. That said, a genuine global recovery is still the impetus for such growth, Howell admits, and any “double dip” among more developed markets will also tend to implicate its less liquid brethren. On the subject of Croatia, for instance, Roubini Global Economics predicts that “sluggish credit growth to the private sector will prolong recovery.”
Against the backdrop of soaring CDS spreads for the likes of Greece, Portugal and Spain, certain central European countries–namely Poland and the Czech Republic–continue to garner increased attention from investors looking to flee risk but still earn appreciable yield. As Dominik Radziwill, Poland’s deputy finance minister, who helped place a €3bn 15-year bond issue last month, told the FT on Friday, “we are a safe haven. We have become an alternative for investors who are looking at the periphery of Europe. We can see an increase in interest on the part of foreign investors in Polish debt.”
Some observers tout the virtues of Polish debt both in the short and long term. According to Baron Chan, an emerging-market strategist with Credit Suisse Group AG in London, in regards to the government’s vow to limit spending growth and speed up asset sales in order to bring the budget deficit in line with euro-adoption standards, “the idea of acceleration in fiscal consolidation will be good for the risk profile of Poland and should support the zloty.” Credit Suisse, for one, anticipates the euro/zloty, now at 4.11, to trade around 3.75 by year end. Meanwhile, Investec Asset Management touts the long end of Poland’s yield curve, noting thje country’s “good fundamentals and flows supporting bonds.” In particular, some analysts forecast the 10-year Polish bond yield to fall around 30 basis points in the first half of 2010 from 6.1%.
As for the PIGS label, it seems Ireland has replaced Italy, for those keeping tabs on the acronym.
Bloomberg relays Citigroup’s sentiment that frontier markets, which trade at roughly 13x earnings (compared with emerging markets at 20x) and many of whom still trade at 50% or more below their 2007-2008 highs, are due for a “good year” on the back of low interest rates and rising commodity prices.
One of Citigroup’s favorite frontier stocks is Karachi-based Engro Chemical Pakistan Limited, the country’s second-largest urea maker which, aside from spending $1.7 billion to expand its operations into milk and consumer goods (Engro Foods) in the past three years, announced in November that it would construct a $1b phosphate fertilizer plant in North Africa in order to further fuel demand in both Pakistan and Western Europe. The company also deals in energy, polymer and bulk handling. Yet fertilizer remains the firm’s cash cow, BMA Capital explained last fall in the linked research piece, and will continue to provide the impetus for future growth:
Protection of agrarian policies by the government and stable gas supply has greatly helped the fertilizer arm making it stable, profitable and secure. Urea is locally available at a significant discount to the international landed price of the product. Current retail prices of PKR797/bag compared to international landed cost of PKR1,200/bag means that locally available urea will continue to be preferred. Engro will become the largest urea producer of Pakistan by mid-CY10E with additional capacity to the tune of 1.3mtpa coming online.