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Bet on Africa’s Retail, Not Its Resources: Fund Manager

Wednesday, 7 Nov 2012 | 11:56 AM ET
CNBC.com

Investors who view Africa solely as a natural resources play are "missing the picture," according to Robert Scharar, fund manager at the Commonwealth Africa Fund.

"There are great opportunities because of an emerging middle class, an increase in education and more transparent governments," Scharar said. (Read More: Investors Eye This African Country)

He added: "That is leading to a major growth in spending and consumerism across the continent… People begin to need things like insurance, retail services, supermarkets and home services. All the things that any middle class economy needs, Africa needs and it needs it in major amounts."

Scharar said he invests in pan-African supermarket chains, and also banks and insurance companies or products, as Africa is currently under-banked.

He said natural resources remained an important part of the Africa story, but warned that China's involvement in the sector comes with downsides.

"Some of China's involvement is really counterproductive for Africans, because it is so tied to Chinese resources and lacks a lot of transparency. In the end, I do not think it is going to be the success story of Africa by any stretch," said Scharar, adding that he has very little direct exposure to the natural resources sector.

Like fellow investor Mark Mobius, who heads Templeton Asset Management's emerging markets group, Scharar remains positive about South Africa's investment potential despite the outbreak of violence, which saw 44 killed at a Lonmin mine in August, and deteriorating labor relations across the country. (Read More: Mark Mobius Sticks With South Africa Bet Despite Turmoil)

"People I talk to in South Africa, of all stripes, want to get on with growing the country and taking their rightful place as a more developed country. I think these things will pass," he said.

Is Africa Just a Resource Story?
Robert Scharar, fund manager at Commonwealth Africa Fund, tells CNBC there are more reasons to invest in Africa than simply its abundance of resources.

Scharar attributed the unrest to infighting within the ruling African National Congress (ANC). The party has been in power since the fall of apartheid in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became president.

"People do not realize the ANC is really a collection of three major groups, including the South African Communist party, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the traditional ANC. As they fight for their territory, you are seeing distractions and I think part of the union organization is tied to that," he said.

"It is tragic to see what is happening, but there are elections coming in 2014. The ANC, which has had a stranglehold on South Africa, is finding that it is weakening."

The Commonwealth Africa Fund is one of a series of mutual funds investing in the Commonwealth (ex-British colonies).

According to its website, 20.7 percent of its portfolio is in iShares MSCI South Africa, and 17.6 percent is in Market Vectors Africa. Both are exchange-traded funds.

—By CNBC.com's Katy Barnato

Additional News: Dollars & Danger: Africa, The Final Investing Frontier

Additional Views: Is Africa Just a Resource Story?

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Disclosure:

Disclosure information for Robert Scharar wasn't immediately available.

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