Africa: The Last Frontier

07/28/2015 10:00 am EST

Focus: GLOBAL

Tony Daltorio

Editor, Investors Alley Premium Digest

Africa is the last ground-floor investment opportunity left on Earth; it is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, asserts Tony Daltorio in Daily Profit.

Many of the economies on the African continent have been growing at a brisk pace since stirring out of a long slumber at the turn of the century.

The International Monetary Fund says Africa grew at a 6% annual rate for the past decade. And, according to the World Bank, that growth is set to continue.

There are some real game changers occurring on the continent. The size of the middle class in Africa has grown from 27% of the population in 2000 to 34% in 2010. 

Demographics are also very favorable. It is the world's youngest continent, with an estimated 40% of its population under the age of 18.

Africa is finally starting to get the notice of some big investors. One of the largest US pension funds—the New York Common Retirement Fund—plans to invest as much as 3% of its portfolio in Africa over the next five years. That translates to about $5 billion.

Private equity has also awakened to the opportunities Africa offers. Last year, private equity firms globally raised $4.2 billion to invest in Africa. That was double the average for the preceding five years.

This year the pace is even hotter, with $2.2 billion raised, just in the first quarter of 2015.

For investors interested in particular sectors, there are several South African stocks that may have appeal. These stocks trade over the counter and have broad exposure to Africa and other emerging markets.

A short list includes: generic drug maker Aspen Pharmacare (APNHY), retailer Massmart Holdings (MMRTY), telecom company MTN Group (MTNOY), e-commerce and media giant Naspers (NPSNY), retailer Shoprite (SRGHY), consumer-goods company Tiger Brands (TBLMY), and phone company Vodacom (VDMCY).

But the best way to get broad exposure to a wide swath of countries and sectors is through a mutual fund called the Nile Pan Africa Fund, which is available in both Class A shares (NAFAX) and Class C shares (NAFCX).

The Nile Pan Africa Fund received an award in 2014 from Lipper for being the best emerging-market fund for the prior three years performance.

Currently, the top countries represented in the fund are South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Beware, though, there are rather high fees. The A shares have an annual expense ratio of 2.5% (and a 5.75% upfront sales load before breakpoints), while the C shares carry a 3.25% expense ratio.

The fund is managed by Larry Seruma, who grew up in Uganda and has over 20 years experience in the portfolio management business. He uses a value approach, searching for companies trading below their intrinsic worth.

Yes, Africa has its problems. Some are man-made (politics) and others are simply caused by Mother Nature, such as water worries. But the continent seems to be making positive strides out of a long period of darkness.

The time to get in on such investment opportunities is when most investors are too afraid to jump in. Africa is that opportunity now.

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