Category Archives: guest post

Investing: Use Social Networks, don’t be used

All data indicates a new age of interest in retail investing. Across the world more people than ever are starting to trade for the first time, with reports of retail participation in the US stock market, for example, increasing from 10% in 2019 to 25% in 2020. Even during a public relations disaster, Robinhood- the U.S retail-focused trading app- onboarded 600k new clients in a single day. Our brokerage, Equiti Group/ FXPesa, saw volumes and client numbers increase by multiples across all our key markets and this will continue through this year.

The pandemic created an environment where people were looking for an income in the safety of their own home and, logically, that trading/ investing answered that need. Anything that brings a heightened awareness of financial literacy is a great thing, but it’s also something that we need to nurture. With millions entering the financial markets for the first time, unfortunately, scams, misinformation and false promises follow, and we must increase consciousness of this.

Social Networks: Most of the world has been following the journey of a supposed war between those on a Reddit forum called r/WallStreetBets and hedge funds betting on the demise of American electronic games supplier GameStop (going ‘short’). This battle was trending on all major social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Telegram and Instagram. These networks are powerful, Reddit has 160 million unique visits to its site each month.

People that had never invested before frantically set up trading accounts and placed trades with as much capital as they could put their hands on. Some naïve first-timers often had very little notion of risk or what they were doing, but instead paid full attention to the latest funny meme or influencer that told them that this stock was ‘going to the moon’. It did, and then it came back again leaving a lot of people losing a lot of money.

Ignoring Fundamentals: Social networks and online personalities have an increasing amount of influence over investors. Recently, Elon Musk the CEO of Tesla added 12% to the value of Bitcoin simply by changing his bio to the bitcoin Twitter hashtag. With the wave of memes, online ‘experts’ and celebrities pushing their agendas, the fundamentals of great companies are becoming secondary. We need to acknowledge this and attempt to educate differently.

A perfect example of this was the recent movement in the Silver price. Silver is widely regarded as an undervalued metal, mainly because of its increasing utility in ‘green technologies’, such as solar panels. Various reports declare solar panels and wind turbines will require three times more silver than what is used today. Silver is also used in electric car production and other tech of the future. When the silver price jumped 12% (its biggest intraday rise since 2008), it was not because of these fundamentals. The price jumped primarily because social media declared the same war with hedge funds and decided to try to do the GameStop ‘trick’ again, making the Twitter hashtags #shortsqueeze and #silvershortsqueeze trend across the world. The silver market is huge and not as easily manipulated as a relatively small stock such as GameStop, and so this attempt was doomed, with silver retracing back very quickly and lots of retail traders losing more money. 

All this focus away from fundamentals, meant that the market was quite late to understand the stellar Q4 earnings shown by some great companies, especially Big US Tech firms. Amazon posted $126 billion Q4 revenue and shows no sign of slowing. Google saw a 23% revenue growth in Q4. Unfortunately, the circa 4-6% share price increases these saw due to these results aren’t considered attractive enough to those only seeking the 16x returns GameStop gave some in just 2 weeks. There is so much real opportunity in the markets, especially now.

Scams: If you were to investigate your junk mail (don’t!), you would have probably been sent a scam email within the last 24hrs. It is most likely centred around cryptocurrencies, where it is promising huge returns from trading obscure crypto that you have never heard of. Some of the recent scams are from hackers sending out tweets from reputable, businessmen like Jeff Bezos and even former presidents such as Barack Obama’s certified accounts. They ask for the trusting public to send bitcoin to a wallet and then wait for 2x back.

Unfortunately, as unlikely as these scams may seem, the public is losing millions of dollars to them daily. In today’s ‘at once’ society, many aren’t thinking of growing knowledge and wealth over a long period. Instead, they want instant gratification and huge profits, as is the expectation in most walks of life now. Now, if you want something, you want it immediately- but my experience of wealth generation is the very opposite of this. It takes time to do it right.

Long-term side-effects: Social media has been an excellent source of information for new traders, keen to improve their financial futures. However, there is cause for concern if these young and new entrants blindly follow investment ideas that they do not understand, just because the herd are doing the same thing. We have a huge wave of first- time traders ignoring great companies that have incredible distribution channels and solid, multiple revenue streams, instead opting to follow a funny meme of Elon Musk and a Shiba Inu dog (DogeCoin).

A glaring issue is I don’t see how it can work out for these traders. If they make money in these pump-and-dump Reddit schemes, for example, they will invariably put more into the next one and continue until they lose everything. In this search for increasing returns, they are also susceptible to false promises and scams. On the flip side, if they lose their money in the first attempt, they are likely to shut their accounts and never think about their financial futures again. That is a tragedy.

It is far better to work with a brokerage to diversify your investments across global asset classes, regions and short and long-term plays, concentrating on sound fundamental and technical analysis…improving your knowledge day by day, year by year. Understanding this gives you a great chance at achieving real wealth. This has always been exciting enough for me, no meme needed. 

A guest post by Brian Myers (@bjmyersUK), the CEO at Equiti Capital UK.

African Investor? Think Global

Huge potential financial returns from global markets:

The financial markets have started like a rocket this year. The main global indices have incredible resilience through the current pandemic and political turmoil. The German Stock index (DAX30) started this year up 80% from its March 2020 low. The US NASDAQ closed off last year with a gain of 43.64% and since the opening of 2021 all the main US indices (Dow Jones, S&P500, NASDAQ) keep relentlessly printing new all-time highs.

Some of the strongest performing global stocks continue to be those that are servicing the needs of a planet in lockdown. For example, ZOOM (ZM), a video communications company that has kept the world connected and has benefitted from a 2020 share price increase of 396%. Peloton (PTON) brought health and fitness into the planet’s living rooms and was rewarded with a 434% increase.

While these stocks are striving to improve lives during the pandemic and beyond, Tesla (TSLA) continues to fight against the global climate crisis. Traders from across the world have bought into the Tesla story, and those that have held the stock since 2019 are smiling with a return of well over 1,000% (none more so than the newly crowned richest man on Earth – Tesla CEO, Elon Musk). On Friday 8th January an incredible $62 billion of Tesla shares were traded, one of the largest daily stock trading volumes in history.

These volumes and returns are not just concentrated on equities. Bitcoin, considered by some as ‘digital gold’, has had an incredible run over the past few months, recently smashing through $40,000. The ‘digital gold’ has returned over 40% to investors in the first trading week of this year alone. Actual gold also performed well, giving a 19% return over the past year. So, equities, indices, commodities, cryptocurrencies- most global asset classes can reward those with access.

Don’t miss out on the global bull-run:

African investors are wise to compare these potential returns to local markets. Many of the African stock exchanges were negative over the past 12 months, with some of the larger ones finishing 2020 down 7 – 15%. The issue here is that most investors in these regions are still predominantly trading local shares/ equities and bonds. Fixed income products are showing extremely poor returns across the world, so the net result for these people is that they are missing the huge global bull-run and it just isn’t fair. It is the mission of my company EGM Securities/ fxPesa to help resolve this issue. The era of holding solely long positions in local stocks and bonds has gone. Africans need and want so much more- and we are determined to give global access and education to anyone that seeks it. We see it as our responsibility to help improve financial literacy across the continent by relentlessly educating the population.

Expect more volatility this year:

On the topic of financial literacy, it is important that we note that we are certainly in a bubble fed by several factors, not least the incredible amount of stimulus from global central banks – more than $9 trillion has been pumped into various markets. There is certainly a disconnect between the global economy symbolised as ‘Main Street’ and the Stock Markets, or ‘Wall Street’. Last week there was a poor jobless claim print (Non-Farm Payroll or NFP) showing unemployment increasing, but in parallel main indices were at record highs. Commentators are calling this a ‘Rational Bubble’, as prices are inflated but with there not being an expected end to the money printing, the bubble looks set to continue.

However, a correction (10% stock market drop) or bear market (over 20% drop) is inevitable. A correction occurs, on average, yearly. A bear market occurs every 3-5 years. We must remember Warren Buffett’s most well-known advice- “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful”, and for sure the world is being incredibly greedy with the returns they are getting. This is the reason why Tesla and Bitcoin volumes are through the roof. So, if a downturn is inevitable, Africans need the ability to trade and profit from falling markets (going short) – something unknown to many traders in the region.

If you’re an African investor you must think global:

Taking this all in, my point is this – if you are an African investor you must think global. By doing this, the investor can tap into heavily traded markets moving with potentially larger returns. You should find a brokerage that you trust and that, like mine, allows access to global indices, foreign exchange (fx), commodities and shares, so that you can diversify your portfolio away from just local equities and bonds. It’s important that you educate yourself in financial products that will allow you to benefit from falling markets. By doing this and constantly learning, you will be on a great path towards financial freedom.

Follow me @bjmyersUK

A guest post by Brian Myers, the CEO at Equiti Capital UK.

How competition agencies should reorganize themselves to mitigate the impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has occasioned an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis across the World whose impact will be felt for quite some time. 

All stakeholders, including Governments, regulators and other State agencies, have to implement their mandates to ensure that markets remain open, functioning, and competitive. They also need to develop and implement policies that ensure the impact of this crisis is short-lived, while also mitigating its effects.

Recently, heads of Competition agencies across Africa congregated virtually under the auspices of the African Competition Forum (ACF) to deliberate on how we can prepare ourselves for an uncertain future. The meeting also recognized the critical role competition agencies play in ensuring that markets continue functioning competitively.

Competition agencies have in recent weeks attended to infractions like price gouging, abuse of dominance, cartelization, and abuse of buyer power. The purpose of such conduct is private gain at the expense of consumer welfare and, in the current emergency, is antagonistic to containment efforts.

In order to continue playing their role in the post-pandemic era, it was noted that Competition agencies should reconfigure their operations from at least four perspectives; organizational, regulatory capacity, enforcement priorities, and policy advisory role. 

Competition agencies should be prepared to work with limited resources due to decreased Government revenues, even as demand for their mandates expand. As a matter of priority, agencies should review their strategic objectives and refocus their interventions in favour of fewer but highly impactful activities. 

They should also enhance collaboration and cooperation with regional Competition agencies and, nationally, with respective sector regulators. 

Competition agencies should also entrench a culture of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) and Business Continuity Management (BCM). At the Competition Authority of Kenya, implementation of ERM and BCM, coupled with the digitization of our core mandate processes in mid-2019, is enabling the organization to weather this storm with minimal disruption to service delivery. 

However, automation begets risks such as cyber-attacks and breach of client confidentiality and therefore specific measures should be taken to insulate an automated organization.

From a regulatory perspective, it is critical that agencies review their laws to ensure that they are results-oriented, while at the same time flexible to deal with emergencies. The Competition Act No.12 of 2010 has enabled the Authority to attend to supply chain and consumer protection challenges. 

Agencies should also align their interventions with the country’s industrial policy. For instance, Competition agencies need to think about how they can ‘lower their guns’, albeit momentarily, to support a certain threshold in the growth of our Nation’s industrial capacity.

Competition agencies are likely to experience an upsurge in joint venture applications and distress mergers, more so from the airline industry. It is also expected there will increased merger activity in the online and e-commerce space.

On the flipside, killer mergers could also increase where dominant incumbents seek to acquire upcoming competitors, more so in the digital economy which has become indispensable in the pandemic. Towards this, the Authority has realigned its workforce to enable critical review of all merger applications, but within the law.

Further, the Authority is finalizing investigations in the retail sector regarding allegations of a few supermarkets failing to pay their suppliers on time, which is against abuse of buyer power provisions under the Competition Act. Unfettered supply of essential commodities to consumers is paramount during a pandemic.

Lastly, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen some countries revert to price controls. As competition agencies, we need to advise our governments that price controls are counterproductive since they ultimately harm consumers, more so by facilitating the proliferation of black markets. Quality and the safety of goods is also not guaranteed.

Fortunately, the Kenyan government has attended to the market distortions during this pandemic through the forces of supply and demand. Specifically, the Government has ensured that essential supplies in the market are available.

Regulators should not strive to go back to the pre-Covid-19 dispensation, in terms of how we organize and manage our agencies, but instead, let us embrace the new normal way of doing things that is far from normal.

Mr. Wang’ombe Kariuki is the Director-General, at the Competition Authority of Kenya. He is on Twitter at @wang_kariuki.

The End of Social Conventions?

For weeks, investors and the business community have been rattled by massive  disruptions to global supply chains, as factories shut down in China. Everyone from BMW and Mercedes to Apple is feeling the squeeze on account of the coronavirus.

But economies and businesses are not the only ones dealing with disruption. 

Social conventions are adjusting in unprecedented ways.

Yesterday, Italy shut down ALL schools and contemplated banning kissing in an attempt to thwart the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.  The kissing ban may not be necessary. Italians are already voting with their feet and keeping their cheeks at a very safe distance from friends, family members and others.

But Italy is not alone.

In France, where “La bise” is an age-old ritual, kissing friends has always been a rather complicated affair, especially for uninitiated foreigners. Rather than shaking hands, waving hello or hugging, you simply  lean forward, touch cheeks and kiss the air while making a sound with your lips. 

Friends in France tell me that ‘La bise’ could soon go the way of the dodo if the virus known as “COVID19” remains unrelenting.

Here in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire, as in many other parts of the world, social conventions are rapidly changing. Unlike the French double blise, Ivorienes, conduct a rapid triple kiss. But they too have become extremely economical with their cheek and air kisses. 

At the African Development Bank, where we have rapidly put a coronavirus contingency plan in place, kisses and handshakes are quickly giving way to fist and elbow bumps, or to no contact at all. Many understandably  prefer an adoring “keep your hands to yourself” stance.

Across town, it is not uncommon to see men and women now tap their feet rather than touch cheeks or shake hands. What first started out a few weeks ago as a  comedic viral video in Asia, has since mushroomed into a full-blown practice in some communities. 

I’ve already been offered the foot of friendship’ several times, so I can testify.

Last night, I was having dinner with a colleague at Indian By Nature, a lovely restaurant off of Boulevard de Marseille in the Marcory district that is a favourite hangout for many in the expatriate community.

Three things struck me. 

One, very visible neon yellow alcoholic hand sanitizers were on full display all around the restaurant. You couldn’t miss them.

Second, everyone … waiters, chefs, and owners kept their hands and cheeks to themselves. 

And third, it would seem that the hand-clasped Hindi ‘Namaste’ greeting could soon become a globally preferred and much safer social norm, in a world battling with a pandemic that has already spooked the media and business world for good reason.

Social conventions have always been arcane arbitrary rules and norms that govern behaviours from kissing, hugging, shaking hands, to bowing. In the age of increasing pandemics, it would seem that old conventions are quickly giving way to the new and the not so new.

For now, stay safe and Namaste!

Dr. Victor Oladokun, is the Director of Communication and External Relations, African Development Bank.

Rethinking tax incentives in Kenya’s investment promotion efforts

A recent court ruling declaring the Kenya-Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) void has sent Kenya back to the negotiating table with Mauritius. The court’s judgment is based on the fact that the DTAA was not properly ratified under Kenyan law. Kenya’s government argues that the treaty promotes investment and jobs; however, critics such as the Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA), which filed this suit, argue that DTAAs rarely lead to any benefits for developing countries. TJNA argues that instead, they result in massive revenue leakage for African countries which outweighs incoming foreign direct investment (FDI).

Should countries, therefore, abandon the use of DTAAs? The answer more than likely lies in the middle: to bring real benefits to the economy and promote local market potential, countries should balance between the use DTAAs and other tax incentives such as special economic zones (SEZs).

Kenya’s DTAA with Mauritius was signed in 2014 with the hope of boosting foreign direct investment, but the benefits of the agreement were poorly defined from the outset. Similar to any policy, DTAAs must be rooted in clear and measurable objectives supported by equally clear policy levers to ensure that revenue generated from the resident country is not leaked through tax avoidance schemes like profit-shifting. Studies show that DTAAs signed between countries with asymmetric investment positions are less likely to lead to any benefits for developing countries. In the Netherlands, for example, DTAAs led to forgone revenue of at least USD 863 million for developing countries in 2011.

Given Kenya’s current budget deficit of USD 3.75 billion, it is critical that efforts to attract FDI such as DTAAs do not cannibalise local efforts to improve tax revenue. Numerous studies show that countries rarely achieve substantive FDI levels to make up for the revenue losses these DTAAs cause. The failed Kenya-Mauritius DTAA is not the first time a tax agreement with the island nation has been subject to controversy: in 2017, India reviewed its DTAA with Mauritius after reports showed that it had opened room for tax avoidance resulting in revenue leakage of about USD 600 million annually. In 2016 alone, Mauritian firms injected more than USD 50 million into the Kenyan economy, a 72 percent increase from 5 years prior. If the Dutch and Indian examples are any indication, Kenya could be losing far more. Lost corporate revenue is income that Kenya urgently needs to meet its development objectives. A shift to other tax incentives whose impact is more ascertainable may be more effective for many developing countries.

If the goal of DTAAs is to increase foreign investment in Kenya, they must be considered in conjunction with the broader ecosystem of policy instruments that can be used to increase tax revenues to achieve Kenya’s four priority pillars for economic growth. The government hopes to raise the manufacturing sector’s share of the GDP from 9% to 15%, and create 1.3 million jobs in this sector by 2022. To achieve this, governments should explore specific tax incentives that can provide direct benefits to these areas, such as special economic zones, which aim to maximise the “cluster effects” of activities through knowledge and supply chain integration, centralised access to critical infrastructure like roads and electricity, as well as enhanced support from local government.

Kenya, in making strides to use other tax incentives such as Special Economic Zones, should borrow lessons from its neighbours on reaping full benefits from SEZs. Rwanda, for example, has successfully leveraged SEZs to promote growth. In 2016, the Kigali Special Economic Zone (KSEZ) employed 2% of the country’s permanent employees, and accounted for 2.5% of all VAT reported sales. In Kenya, the government has already designated Mombasa, Kisumu, and Lamu as the future SEZs but to maximise their impact and avoid the development of enclaves, it is essential that firms in these SEZs interact with firms outside the zones and that the government ensures knowledge and best practices developed are shared across the economy.

Tax incentives alone will never be the sole factor attracting investors — to increase FDI, Kenya must continue to demonstrate strong market potential by providing business support and trade facilitation services. KPMG finds that Kenyan products are among the top four countries in Africa that score above the global average in terms of competitiveness on the international market; however, it still takes an average of 22 days to start a business — compared to 6.5 days in Egypt and 14 in Ghana — and poor availability of market data can complicate efforts at local expansion. To improve the country’s competitiveness, the Kenya Investment Authority should improve the availability of data for investors by working more closely with the Kenya Bureau of Statistics. Reducing business costs, for example, by bringing down the cost of imports for required goods or improving data quality to support manufacturing and value-added services will always outweigh lowering taxes.

The DTAA ruling prompts a careful re-examination of how to increase FDI without incurring unintended knock-on effects like tax avoidance. To do this, Kenya must enhance its capacity when negotiating bilateral agreements, and enact policies to support proper implementation of these agreements. In its use of tax incentives, it is critical that the scales are always tipped in Kenya’s favour. The impact of each incentive employed must be clear and measurable to ascertain that its benefits outweigh any associated costs.

A guest post by Bathsheba Asati and Faith Nyabuto of the Botho Emerging Markets Group. 

See also: The Kenyan Guide to Mauritius for business travelers.

EDIT: In July 2020, Kenya and Mauritius entered a new five-year agreement for the avoidance of double-taxation and to prevent fiscal evasion of income taxes. It also binds the two nations to exchange information and to assist each other in collecting taxes due.