Kenya has invited Ethiopian companies to list on the Nairobi Securities Exchange in a ground-breaking move that would let them raise capital and trade their shares. The Ethiopian Government has been slow to support development of its capital market, hampering investment and private-sector growth.
The invitation came earlier this month as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta visited Addis Ababa to strengthen trade and other ties. According to Reuters he told a joint meeting of executives from both nations: “Kenya stands ready to begin consultations for the regulations and guidelines that would allow Ethiopian companies to raise investment capital and trade at our Nairobi Securities Exchange.”
Ethiopia has one of Africa’s biggest economies, a fast-growing population of 85-90 million, and a booming economy which is forecast to grow at over 7% a year for each of the next five years, according to the International Monetary Fund (World Economic Outlook, Oct 2013).
Foreign multinational companies such as Unilever, Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and many Chinese and Indian companies are opening a wide range of operations, including manufacturing. However, many Ethiopian companies have found it hard to raise the risk capital to seize the many opportunities, despite a strong human skills base, as outlined in this perceptive article in Financial Times.
The Government is 100% owner of the largest companies such as Ethio Telecom and Ethiopian Airlines and endowment companies linked to the key political parties are also major forces in the economy. There has been a programme of privatizing many state-owned companies in farming, manufacturing and others but Government retains key strategic industries and Reuters says they are resisting calls to liberalize the economy.
Kenyatta took Kenyan companies to look for opportunities in Ethiopia including executives of dairy company Brookside, Equity Bank and telecoms operator Safaricom. The 2 countries signed a special status agreement in 2012, detailing various areas of co-operation in trade, energy and infrastructure. A large transport corridor could link Ethiopia and South Sudan to a new Lamu port in Kenya. Ethiopia recently opened a grid to export electricity to Kenya with $1.5bn financing from the World Bank and the African Development Bank.
Analysts said Ethiopia would benefit if its firms take up the offer to tap Kenyan capital and Reuters quoted a analyst from Nairobi-based Standard Investment Bank in a note to clients: “The advantage for Ethiopia for this arrangement would be the ability to provide companies with an inflow of capital without necessarily running the risks of an open capital account economy which Kenya is already accustomed to.”
The Nairobi bourse is the powerhouse of Eastern Africa and there are already many dual-listings in the region and plans to create further links and harmonization with Dar Es Salaam, Uganda and Rwanda securities exchanges.
One Ethiopian lawyer told African Capital Markets News: “There is no law that prohibits Ethiopian companies to trade on another stock market. The President of Kenya has made his intention clear on the subject and there is no clear rejection or acceptance from its Ethiopian counterparty. The Ethiopian companies could benefit much. Principally they will be able to implement corporate governance policies and procedures that are lacking today and also be competitive over the world market.”
According to Million Kibret, managing partner of BDO Consulting Ethiopia, confirmed to African Capital Markets News that lawyers agreed “there is no law or directive or regulation that forbids interested Ethiopian companies to register at the Nairobi Securities Market. If their enrollment requires investment it will be up to the National Bank of Ethiopia to allow same.”
Kenyatta said that Kenya exported goods worth $53.2m to Ethiopia in 2012 and imported goods worth $4.1m in the same year.