Futures & Commodities

Africa investors turn away from commodities

Foreign investors pouring money into Africa are increasingly turning away from commodities-led projects to tap into the growing consumer market, while smaller, less-established countries are also getting a bigger lion's share.

In its annual report on Africa released this week, EY revealed the continent became the world's second-most attractive investment destination in 2013, just behind North America. In addition, Africa's share of global foreign direct investment (FDI) reached its highest level in a decade, at 5.7 percent, while capital investments grew by 12.9 percent in the same period.

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But 2013 also saw some major shifts in investment trends on the continent. Mining and metals, for instance, are no longer the main beneficiaries of FDI and the list of the top 10 countries in FDI projects showed some surprising trends.

Forget mining?

While EY noted a "dramatic improvement" in perceptions of Africa over the last four years, the usual magnets for foreign investment are losing momentum. FDI flows into mining and metals, coal, oil and natural gas have become less prominent, according to EY, with their share of overall FDI projects at the lowest-ever level in 2013.

Instead, investors are turning to service- and consumer-related industries. The top three sectors – technology, media and telecommunications, retail and consumer products (RCP) and financial services – accounted for more than 50 percent of total FDI projects last year.

The expanding but still underpenetrated consumer market and the improving communication infrastructure boosted investments in RCP, which accounted for 17.5 percent of FDI projects last year.

Claire Schaffnit-Chatterjee, a senior analyst at Deutsche Bank, said that although the African consumer market was largely still for basic goods and services, this was changing as citizens became richer. "More than half of African households are forecast to have discretionary income by 2020," she told CNBC by phone.

Razia Khan, regional head of research for Africa at Standard Chartered, named Nigeria as one country which was likely to see increasingly diversified FDI flows, despite concerns about political instability and terrorism activities, such as the recent kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls.

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Nigeria recently overtook South Africa to become the continent's fastest-growing economy. Khan added that Nigeria's high birth rate would also boost consumer demand. "Already there are more Nigerian babies born every year than there are in the whole of Europe," she told CNBC by phone.

Watch out for…Zambia

However, for Africa's less well-established countries, the story may still be about commodities. "For small economies, the stuff that will really move the dial is resources," Khan said. She highlighted Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia as "resource stories".

Zambia and Uganda both made their first appearances in 2013 on EY's top-10 list of most popular destinations for foreign investment, ranked by number of FDI projects.

Zambia is the world's third-largest copper producer and output is expected to double by 2020. The country is also rich in other natural resources, with fertile lands and hydro power, and is considered politically stable.

The Zambian government is also taking steps to develop various sectors beyond the mining industry, by setting up a sovereign wealth fund and boosting investment in infrastructure to develop tourism and agricultural industries.

As for Uganda, investors are attracted by the solid economic growth record, rapid population expansion and currently low per capita consumption. Uganda has also discovered oil, and is on track to become an oil producer by 2017, according to Khan.

Ghana and Mozambique moved up EY's ranks for FDI projects to occupy fourth and seventh place in 2013. Like Uganda, both have been boosted by recent energy discoveries – oil for Ghana , coal and gas for Mozambique – and the accompanying boom in infrastructure development.

Between 2014 and 2018, Mozambique's economy is seen expanding by 8 percent per year on average. "Mozambique has very strong growth prospects," Schaffnit-Chatterjee told CNBC.

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