Investment into Africa as the next big thing seems to be all but established. But investment into property developments has been stop start, with some notable exceptions. Experts on the ground are expecting investment to pick up as Africa’s hunger for shopping malls and commercial office space continues to grow.
Many retailers that have set up operations in Africa have expressed that their expansion on the continent is being held back by the lack of suitable shopping malls. This begs the question that if there is such a strong demand for modern retail locations, why aren’t we seeing new malls being developed at a more rapid pace?
There are some worthy exceptions: South Africa’s Manto Investment Group is to construct a US$30 million shopping centre in Ndola, Zambia. Construction work is expected to commence after feasibility studies have been completed.
West property, Augur Investments and McCormick Property Development, are planning the building of a 68, 000sqm shopping mall in Zimbabwe located in Harare’s up market Borrowdale suburb. According to The Zimbabwean online (UK), this represents the biggest shopping mall in Africa, outside South Africa.
The Financial Mail reports that Resilient Property Income Fund Ltd plans to spend more than 1 billion rand building 10 shopping malls in Nigeria. The malls, 10,000 square meters and 15,000 square meters in size, will be built over the next three years in the capital, Abuja, and the city of Lagos respectively, the main commercial hubs. Shoprite, Africa’s largest food retailer, will be the major tenant. Bloomberg reports that Standard Bank Group Ltd, Africa’s biggest lender, and construction company Group Five Ltd. (GRF) are also partners in the deal.
Recently, emerging markets private equity firm Actis has been at the forefront of a number of Africa’s more high-profile property developments. The company is behind Nigeria’s arguably first modern shopping malls and has recently announced that it will invest in East Africa’s largest retail mall to be situated in Nairobi.
How we made it in Africa asked Kevin Teeroovengadum, a director for real estate at Actis why we aren’t seeing new malls being developed at a more rapid pace. Teeroovengadum believes there hasn’t been significant enough interest from international property developers to invest in sub-Saharan Africa. South African developers were focused on the local market due to the football World Cup, while European firms were concentrating on Europe and the Middle East. However, the recession in Europe has prompted some European real estate companies to look at Africa for growth opportunities. Post-2010 many South African property players have also turned their attention to the rest of the continent.
Something that players in the industry point out is that the development of shopping malls is time consuming. This referring to the red tape involved with dealing with multiple countries, different regulations and laws and political interference.
Teeroovengadum said. “But if I look at today, and compare it with five years ago, there are far more players involved in the real estate sector. We can really see that happening on the ground. I think if we fast-forward two or three years from now, you are going to see more shopping centres being built in places like Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya – the big economies. You are going to see a fast-tracking of property development happening in Africa.”
Africa south of the Sahara, not including South Africa, has a little in the way of the modern shopping mall experience. Most shoppers still have to frequent a variety of places for their shopping requirements.
However, there appears to be an inclination towards convenience where a variety of products can be found in one location. “Clearly we are seeing in all the markets where we have invested a type of evolution of people moving from informal to formal shopping centres.” Says Teeroovengadum.
One of the challenges continues to be access to funds for property developments in much of sub-Saharan Africa. With the exception of many of South African developments that are funded with up to 100% debt, the rest of the continent developers often need to put down around 50% in cash. Currently there are few banks that are willing to lend for 10 to 15 years. However it is reported that this is improving, as markets become stronger, local banks become stronger, and changes are occurring in markets like Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria in this regard.
Although Africa is drawing the attention of increasingly greater numbers of international investors, interest in the property sector remains relatively passive. On a macro level, more investors are looking to invest in Africa. Barely a week goes by that one doesn’t see an article about Africa, and its growth opportunities and increased foreign direct investment.
However when it comes to property it is a different situation says Teeroovengadum. He refers to the number of investors who made poor returns over the last decade due to the asset bubbles in the US, Europe and Middle East. They are very hesitant about investing more into property. Those who are willing are typically development finance institutions, those institutions that have long-term money for Africa. There are a couple of international pension funds who are looking at investing in Africa, but there are very few these days.
When the question was posed to Actis directors about how they decide which African countries to invest, in they replied that at a basic level they look for a ‘strong economy’ like Nigeria, Ghana Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. This indicates that these countries have good fundamentals, a large population, GDP growth and increasing GDP per capita etc. A Strong legal system was also referred to.
Africa wants shopping malls and companies like Resilient and Actis are gearing up to deliver.
Africa is not an island and is subject to the ebbs and flows of the world economy and its whims and fancies. Nevertheless for whatever reasons Africa is emerging as the next big thing in world investment and economic growth. But is the time right while the world is reeling from financial crisis upon financial crisis. Time will tell if those who were brave enough were foolish or wise.