Is lack of liquidity driving African issuers to list on London Stock Exchange and others?

Reuters newsagency has put together stories on issuers’ and investors’ difficulties with African stock markets. These include lack of liquidity and sinking currencies. It notes that African companies are increasingly dual listing on international stock exchanges.
“Liquidity: the scourge of African stock pickers” quotes a range of institutional investors complaining that liquidity is a major constraint on markets such as Malawi Stock Exchange. According to the article: “Poor but fast-growing, Malawi and other sub-Saharan African countries would offer huge opportunities to international equity investors – if it weren’t for the liquidity scourge. Markets across the continent are hampered by a lack of liquidity, making it nearly impossible to take stakes in all but the biggest firms. “With the exception of South Africa, we feel all sub-Saharan African (markets) are illiquid,” said Ronak Gadhia, Africa equities research analyst at London-based frontier markets specialist Exotix. “Most of our investors are unable to invest outside the big 2 markets, and even then their investable universe is usually the largest 5-10 stocks,” he said, referring to the Nigerian Stock Exchange and Kenya’s Nairobi Securities Exchange, the two biggest markets outside Johannesburg.
It notes that Sonatel, the giant of the BRVM West African regional securities exchange, is concerned about liquidity on that market and thinking about a secondary listing. An earlier story said the pressure comes from investors.
“Africa’s growing firms shun Jo’burg for London” suggests that even when companies are thinking about dual-listing, they head to the London Stock Exchange or AIM market and don’t consider Johannesburg. The article quotes Zambeef executive director Yusuf Koya: “It was a tough decision. A key factor in the decision process was London’s reputation as the world’s financial centre, which allows us to access a potentially wider range of investors and liquidity.”
According to the article: “A total of 104 African companies are listed on the London exchange, with the majority on AIM. The combined market value of African companies listed in London is now bigger than every African exchange except Johannesburg. Just under $2.1 billion was raised by African companies on the London bourse in 19 transactions in 2010, representing about 90 percent of all equity capital raised by Africa-focused companies in 2010, said Ibukun Adebayo, the LSE’s head of equity primary markets. Dual listings are critical for companies that outgrow their home exchanges, where thin liquidity keeps large investors out. Big bourses such as London and Johannesburg also boast tougher disclosure requirements, reassuring investors concerned about Africa’s corporate governance.”
It also cites bankers that London-based investors tend to have a bigger appetite for emerging market assets than their South African counterparts and quotes a private equity manager: “South African investors don’t understand Africa risk in the same way UK investors do.” It also suggests London may be an easier sell to international investors unfamiliar with Johannesburg. Nicky Newton-King, incoming CEO of South Africa’s JSE Ltd, says Johannesburg offers a world-class standard of disclosure for a lower price and less hassle than London: “You can come to the JSE, you can raise the money here, and your shares will be traded in a very liquid environment, a very respected environment. Without going through the costs and the hoops of listing in London, but with exactly the same standards.”
African investment institutions are just starting to rise, it could be a great time to heed the call from ASEA Chairman Sunil Benimadhu for African securities exchanges to find ways to get more liquid. SADC Stock Exchanges already have a workable model, but what will cause anyone to initiate the change to move onto the next level before many more firms move activity to London , New York or elsewhere?


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