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Africa Slump Not Grounds for ‘Excessive Pessimism,’ Lagarde Says

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Christine Lagarde, managing director of International Monetary Fund
  • Africa Slump Not Grounds for ‘Excessive Pessimism’

The student is halfway through her question to Christine Lagarde when the power cuts — a reminder of the obstacles facing Africa’s poorest nations.

The head of the International Monetary Fund doesn’t miss a beat.

“As you can see, building better infrastructure — roads, the Internet, electricity — is important,” she tells the university students who came to hear her speak in a sweltering classroom in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic. Save for a few flickers, the rest of the event, also attended by President Faustin-Archange Touadera, proceeds in darkness.

Five years ago, sub-Saharan Africa was being hailed by Time magazine as the world’s “next economic powerhouse.” The growth of economies such as Kenya and Ethiopia fed the idea of ‘Africa Rising,’ the title of an IMF conference held in Mozambique in 2014, and raised hopes that the continent was beginning to succeed in fighting extreme poverty.

The outlook is much dimmer now. Growth in sub-Saharan Africa likely fell to its lowest level in more than two decades last year, according to the Washington-based fund. While it’s expected to pick up this year to 2.9 percent, that’s a far cry from the 6.6 percent pace the region averaged in the five years before the global financial crisis.

The slump in commodity prices has been the strongest headwind, sideswiping the region’s three biggest economies: Nigeria, South Africa and Angola. Other factors have played a role, such as drought in east and southern Africa and unrest in countries that had been on the rise, such as Ethiopia, where foreign investment has dropped after anti-government protests.

Civil War

Civil war has undermined development in countries such as South Sudan and Central African Republic. In Bangui, Lagarde and her staff traveled in armored convoys protected by United Nations troops alert for any further outbreaks of fighting between militias.

Still, Lagarde warns against writing Africa off. “We should guard against swinging from the strong optimism of recent years about sub-Saharan Africa’s prospects to excessive pessimism,” she said in an interview in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, on her way to meet with President Yoweri Museveni.

Lagarde stressed the importance of strong government institutions on her trip last month, which also took her to Uganda and Mauritius. She urged African countries to reduce inequality even as they strive for growth. And at a time when protectionist sentiment is sweeping the developed world, she argued that regional economic integration might help countries like landlocked Uganda, which is preparing to tap its oil reserves.

The region’s slowdown masks vasts differences in economic fortune, according to Lagarde, sensitive to the fact that her own institution has promoted the Africa Rising narrative. “We cannot really talk about sub-Saharan Africa as a single entity,” she said in the interview. “We have to talk about each and every country.”

Stopgap Measures

Adjustment has been slow in the hardest-hit nations, which have relied too much on stopgap measures such as monetary easing and falling into arrears on payments, according to the IMF. Instead, countries should let their currencies adjust to the shock and take steps to balance budgets, the fund says.

In the Central African Republic, where income per person is among the lowest in the world, even collecting taxes is a challenge. Tax revenue amounts to only slightly more than 7 percent of gross domestic product, compared with more than 25 percent in South Africa.

IMF staff have been advising the government on everything from collecting taxes to gathering and reporting economic statistics as part of a three-year $116 million concessional loan the fund committed last year.

Maintaining security will be crucial to recovery. At a Catholic church in the capital, more than a hundred refugees live in the courtyard in UN-issued tents. Most fled the area known as PK-5 amid fighting between Christian and Muslim militias.

“There’s peace, but people doubt it will last,” said Magloire Malissagba, coordinator of the refugee camp. “No one trusts the government to make things better.”

In such situations, the IMF’s role is closer to that of an emergency-ward doctor, said Lagarde. “We try to help them rebuild capacity, because generally, the capacity of the country has been destroyed.”

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Markets

Refinitiv Expands Economic Data Coverage Across Africa

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Building on its commitment to drive positive change through its data and insights, Refinitiv today announced the expansion of its economic data coverage of Africa. The new data set allows investment managers, central bankers, economists, and research teams to use Refinitiv Datasteam analytical data for detailed exploration of economic relationships and investment opportunities among data series covering the African continent.

Securing reliable, detailed, timely, locally sourced content has not been easy for economists who have in the past had to use international sources which often can take many months to update and opportunities to monitor the market can be missed. Because Africa is a diverse continent, economists and strategists need more timely access to country-specific data via national sources to create tailored business, policy, trading and investment strategies to meet specific goals.

Africa continues to develop critical infrastructure, telecommunications, digital technology and access to financial services for its 1.3bn people. The World Bank estimates that over 50% of African inhabitants will be under 25 by 2050. This presents substantial opportunities for investors who can spot important trends and make informed decisions based on robust and timely economic data.

Stuart Brown, Group Head of Enterprise Data Solutions, Refinitiv, said: “Africa’s growing, dynamic and fast evolving economies makes it a focal point for financial markets today and in the coming decades.  As part of LSEG’s commitment to empowering the global markets with accurate and timely data, we are excited about making these unique datasets available via the Refinitiv Data Platform. Our economic data coverage of Africa will provide our customers with deeper and broader inputs for macroeconomic analyses and enable more effective investment strategies and economic research.”

Refinitiv Africa economic data coverage:

  • Africa economics content comprises around 500,000 nationally sourced time series data covering 54 African nations
  • Content is sourced from national statistical offices, central banks and other key national institutions
  • The full breadth of economics categories in Datastream including national accounts, money and finance, prices, surveys, labor market, consumer, industry, government and external sectors
  • International sources including OECD, World Bank, IMF, African Development Bank, Oxford Economics & more provide comparable data & forecasts across the continent

Refinitiv® Datastream® has global macroeconomics coverage to analyze virtually any macro environment, and better understand economic cycles to uncover trends and forecast market conditions. With over 14.2 million economic times series map trends, customers can validate ideas and identify opportunities using Refinitiv Datastream. Access its powerful charting tools, 9,000 pre-built chart templates and chart studies for commonly used valuation, performance, and technical and fundamental analysis.

 Refinitiv continually grows available data – the China expansion in 2019 covered a unique combination of economic and financial indicators. Refinitiv plans to expand Southeast Asia covering Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia with delivery expected in 2021. This ensures that Refinitiv will have much needed emerging market economic content.

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Oil Rises on Drawdown in U.S. Oil Stocks, OPEC Demand Outlook

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Oil prices rose in early trade on Wednesday, adding to overnight gains, after industry data showed U.S. oil inventories declined more than expected and OPEC raised its outlook for oil demand.

Brent crude futures rose 28 cents, or 0.4%, to $63.95 a barrel at 0057 GMT, after climbing 39 cents on Tuesday.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures similarly climbed 28 cents, or 0.5%, to $60.46 a barrel, adding to Tuesday’s rise of 48 cents.

Oil price gains over the past week have been underpinned by signs of a strong economic recovery in China and the United States, but have been capped by concerns over stalled vaccine rollouts worldwide and soaring COVID-19 infections in India and Brazil.

Nevertheless, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) tweaked up its forecast on Tuesday for world oil demand growth this year, now expecting demand to rise by 5.95 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2021, up by 70,000 bpd from its forecast last month. It is banking on the pandemic to subside and travel curbs to be eased.

“It was a welcome prognosis by the market, which had been fretting about the impact the ongoing pandemic was having on demand,” ANZ Research analysts said in a note.

Further supporting the market on Wednesday, sources said data from the American Petroleum Institute showed crude stocks fell by 3.6 million barrels in the week ended April 9, compared with estimates for a decline of about 2.9 million barrels from analysts polled by Reuters.

Traders are waiting to see if official inventory data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday matches that view.

Market gains are being capped on concerns about increased oil production in the United States and rising supply from Iran at a time when OPEC and its allies, together called OPEC+, are set to bring on more supply from May.

“They may have to contend with rising U.S. supply,” ANZ analysts said.

EIA said this week oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise by 13,000 bpd in May to 7.61 million bpd.

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Energy

African Energy Developments Demand Sustained Investment With New Projects in Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Senegal

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Workers

In the past twelve months, the African energy sector has seen several encouraging developments – in the form of both Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and strategic partnerships – that have advanced the sustainable development of its natural resources. In fact, despite a global downturn in investment in 2020, FDI flows to developing economies accounted for 72% of global FDI, the highest share to date. Given the magnitude of Africa’s oil and gas reserves – not to mention its abundant renewable resource wealth – the continent remains a highly attractive market for inbound investment, which is vital for its growth.

Take Uganda, for instance, which is home to one of the largest onshore discoveries in sub-Saharan Africa. Following multiple petroleum discoveries in Uganda’s Albertine Graben – estimated to contain 6.5 billion barrels of oil, of which 1.4 billion are considered recoverable – foreign investments into the country are expected to reach nearly $20 billion. Last April, Total E&P Uganda B.V. signed a Sale and Purchase Agreement with Tullow Oil PC, through which Total will acquire Tullow’s entire 33.34% interests in Uganda’s Lake Albert development project and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP). Five months later, the Ugandan Government and Total signed a host government agreement for EACOP, representing a significant step toward reaching a final investment decision. The deal pushes along an extended development process – slowed by infrastructure issues, tax complications, then COVID-19 – that not only promises to bring first oil by 2022, but also provides a pathway to monetization via associated transport infrastructure.

In addition to developments at Lake Albert, the Ugandan Government has proven its commitment to attracting FDI to its hydrocarbon sector through its second licensing round held last year, as well as its invitation to local and foreign entities to forge joint-venture partnerships with the Government. By prioritizing the establishment of mutually beneficial partnerships, the emerging East African producer aims to facilitate the successful transfer of skills, knowledge and technology, initiating an influx of technical expertise and working capital into the country.

“Those who have been locked out from access to opportunity want the same from the energy sector that the energy sectors want from governments.  We must not forget local content, local jobs, local opportunities especially for young people and women” Stated NJ Ayuk Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber.

Meanwhile, in West Africa, Senegal has been reaping the rewards of a long-standing partnership with Germany, which has resulted in more than one billion Euros in funding, including significant support for small-scale power plants and renewable energy projects. Holding sizeable potential for solar and wind energy development, Senegal serves as a regional leader in renewable deployment as a means of rural electrification. Indeed, energy is a central component of poverty alleviation across Africa, with electricity access enabling greater independence, clean cooking and potable water, as well as dramatically improving the well-being of individuals, businesses and communities alike.  Rural populations are cognizant of the challenges posed by a lack of stable electricity supply – increased urban migration, lack of access to basic services, low economic competitiveness, to name a few – and distributed renewables can represent the fastest and least expensive path to electrification.

European interest in Senegal has shed light on and served as a model for co-operation opportunities between renewable-rich African countries and developed partners, which offer cutting-edge technologies and technical expertise to transform raw resources into viable off-grid and mini-grid solutions.

Furthermore, while the cost of deploying renewable technology has never been lower, the availability of renewable-focused capital has never been higher. Investment in commercial and industrial solar has demonstrated resilience against the pandemic, continuing to be seen as a safe investment in light of rising utility costs and increasing distribution of both solar and financial technologies. Yet resource potential and low costs of equipment are not enough; Senegal and other resource-rich African nations require active investor interest and strong government support to unlock diversified energy mixes. In turn, a lack of investment represents a pointed threat to the achievement of long-term energy security.

“Young people and women have shown their great resilience, and it is our hope we close these deals in the renewable energy sector, Africans can have a sense of some hope that they will be included in the industry contracts and opportunities. It is no longer correct for the African to be the last hired and the first fired” Concluded Ayuk.

Moreover, without sustained levels of FDI continuing to move the needle on oil, gas and renewable developments, energy export revenues run the risk of being stranded and resources left undeveloped. For emerging producers like Uganda – as well as Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, among several others – this would mean foregoing critical government revenues that could aid in a much-needed, post-COVID-19 economic recovery. FDI is vital to Africa’s growth, and while it may be challenging to procure capital in a tepid global economy, it is even more difficult not to. Yes, COVID-19 has put emerging producers in a tough spot: new exploration is seen as risky, and new producers lack existing assets or low-cost development of marginal fields on which to fall back. However, it is not an option to slow or postpone time-sensitive developments that promise to harness natural resource wealth and make sustainable improvements in standards of living across the continent. Africa requires a sustained flow of investment and has proven time and again that it offers the scope of projects and magnitude of resources that are worthy of foreign capital.

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