As Western Economies Totter, Don't Overlook Explosive Growth In Africa

Includes: AFK, MIICF
by: Josh Cohen

While the global economy teeters on the brink of another disaster, there is one region whose bright prospects have been largely overlooked. Largely below the radar screen, sub-Saharan Africa has seen a recent spate of growth that has generally been ignored by investment analysts in the West.

As this article from Foreign Policy magazine notes, in the last decade, six of the world's 10 fastest growing economies have been from sub-Saharan Africa (Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Chad, Mozambique and Rwanda). Although both corruption and poor governance continue to bedevil Africa, the continent has also begun to see the growth of a real middle class.

Let's take as an example Nigeria, which has the highest population in Africa. First, consider Nigeria's growth since January, 2008. Even at the height of the global recession the Nigerian economy still grew by 4.5%. Now for 11 quarters straight it has grown at least 7%:

Meanwhile, Nigeria's GDP per capita (as measured by purchasing power parity) has also continued to expand over the last five years:

Nigeria is just one example, as many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa have seen similar rates of growth. As a recent survey of Africa by the World Bank noted, the continent could well be on the verge of a true leap forward. According to the World Bank:

"Putting all these factors together, we conclude that Africa could be on the brink of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago, and India 20 years ago."

One of the main markets in sub-Saharan Africa that has been driving economic growth on the continent has been mobile telephony. As the graph below from an excellent article on Techcrunch demonstrates, mobile penetration in Africa has been explosive:

Although many Africans still spend only $2-$3 per month on their mobile phone usage, that number will increase as economic growth continues and more Africans join the middle class.

How can U.S. investors play the African growth story? One stock I really like is Millicom International Cellular S.A.(OTCPK:MIICF). It owns cellular operators in 13 emerging markets countries, including six in Africa (Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania). These countries comprise a total population of 176 million people, and Millicom has substantial room for growth in these markets. Millicom's other seven operators are in Central and South America, making the stock an overall proxy for continued growth in emerging markets.

The second option for Africa is the Market Vectors Africa ETF (NYSEARCA:AFK). AFK focuses entirely on Africa. A couple of its largest holdings are Tullow Oil and Nigerian Breweries. Finally, for an ETF which focuses heavily on Nigeria and surrounding African countries, the Market Vectors Nigeria Focused Western Africa ETF (LGOS:US) is pending listing and should start trading shortly.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.