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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 20th December 2018

Next year's structural crunch

Blue Lines

Stripped of the spin from politicians seeking re-election and international financial institutions seeking to make more loans, it has been a dire year for Africa's economies and worse for its markets.

Buoyed by demographics and better policies, the likes of Ethiopia are strengthening. Pockets of extraordinary innovation in digital technology in Kenya and Nigeria are rightfully attracting attention and sometimes imaginative investors. But the bigger structural economic picture is alarming. In the decade from 2004 to 2014, punctuated by a brief pause in 2007-09, Africa's economies grew by 40%, but jobs didn't keep pace with the birth rate. By 2035 there will be more people of working age – 15 to 65 – in Nigeria than in either China or India.

Even the most rose-tinted economic forecasts doubt that the economy is even halfway to laying the foundations for the necessary new jobs. In the short term, the markets are waving yet more warning flags. Stocks and bonds in Africa performed worse than any other emerging market region in 2018. But in 2017, Africa's soaring markets outperformed all the others. That means equities in the biggest markets – Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa – are selling at bargain prices. But investors are holding back, rattled by the soaring yields on Eurobonds and forecasts of a new debt mountain. More capital is flowing out than coming in. Africa's capital crunch will be a key story in 2019.

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