Category Archives: Mauritius

Kenya remains the third most attractive financial market in Africa

The third edition of the Africa Financial Markets Index report that was released in October 2019, found that Kenya had retained its third position thanks to industry efforts to improve opportunities for investors.

The AFM index by the Absa Bank Group and the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) is a useful tool designed to gauge Africa’s readiness to fund itself and its growth plans. It reviews 20 African countries across six pillars of market depth, access to foreign exchange, market transparency, tax & regulatory environment, the capacity of local investors and macroeconomic opportunity and the legality & enforceability financial agreements.

Overall, South Africa remained in first place, topping four of the six pillars, while Mauritius topped the legal agreements measure and Egypt topped the macro-economic opportunity one.

Speaking on trends across Africa observed in the 2019 AFM Index, Jeff Gable, the Head Of Research at the Absa Group, said there were several exciting financial markets events across the continent this year. These included the first-ever sovereign blue bond by Seychelles to support marine projects, Nigeria selling a 30-year government bond that was four times over-subscribed, Uganda halving the withholding tax on government bonds from 20% to 10%, Zambia launching a primary dealer system and Ethiopia announcing plans to launch a stock exchange in 2020.

On the AFM Index 2019, Kenya, along with Botswana and Namibia, increased to above 50 in the first pillar of market depth. The value of bonds listed in Nairobi doubled from $8.8 billion to $17.5 billion, mostly due to sovereign issues. However there remained a need to have more active trading of bonds and equities, and Kenya has rolled out an M-Akiba infrastructure bond targeted at retail investors that they can access for just over $30.

Kenya came second behind Mauritius on the pillar of enforceability of market agreements. It also scored well for its new insolvency law which encourages rehabilitation of distressed firms, and its endorsement of standard financial master agreements (ISDA GMRA, GMSLA).

However, it lost the lead on the foreign exchange pillar to South Africa. While the country has built up high foreign exchange reserves, up from 4 months to 5.8 months of import cover, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had reclassified Kenya’s exchange rate regime from ‘floating’ to ‘other managed arrangement.’  The AFM Index has continued to highlight the risk of rigid management of foreign exchange by some African countries and pushed for more flexible regimes.

On the third pillar of market transparency, Kenya’s tax code was found to be supportive, but the country had raised taxation on mobile cash transactions creating some uncertainty. There has also been some recent progress as, in the last few weeks, capital markets stakeholders have convinced the Government to retain the country’s capital gains tax at 5%, and set aside an amendment in the 2019 Finance Bill that had proposed to change it to 12.5%.

The country was also flagged for its capping of interest rates which had shrunk credit availability and weakened companies profitability.

Kenya’s Treasury Cabinet Secretary, Ukur Yatani, in a speech read on his behalf at a Nairobi launch of the report, spoke of the need for Kenyans to save and invest to fund economic growth. Even with the country attaining formal financial inclusion of 82%, up from 26% in 2006, more could be achieved through financial markets.

He said that the country had established a Nairobi International Financial Centre authority to attract capital to Kenya and with the movable property security rights in place, the government was now supporting the setup a Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company that would make it easier for banks to advance funding towards affordable home ownership.

He noted that President Kenyatta had declined to assent to the Finance Bill until Parliament reviewed the cap on interest rates which, evidence showed, had resulted in a negative impact on the economy. Kenya was one of the few countries on the index which saw bank non-performing loans go up, from 10 to 11.7%, last year. He hoped that Members of Parliament would now view the President’s determination as an opportunity to give a stimulus to the economy.

Jeremy Awori, CEO of Barclays Bank of Kenya said that the country had ranked favourably, rising from 5th, when the first AFM Index report was published in 2017, to 3rd in 2018, a position it retained this year. This was due to efforts by industry stakeholders and regulators who had also worked with the Capital Markets Authority to launch a 10-year master plan for the industry. He added that, after Kenya had come up with new regulations for exchange-traded funds, Barclays Kenya had launched the first ETF in the region – New Gold which had performed well since its introduction.

He said that, as Barclays transitions into the Absa brand in Kenya and across Africa, customers will not feel any change in products or services and that they were working to upgrade systems to ensure they remain accessible from anywhere in the world. He added that strong domestic financial markets were a cushion to economic headwinds and that Barclays would soon launch a new wealth and asset offering in Kenya.

Charles Muchene, Chairman of Barclays Bank of Kenya, saluted Paul Muthaura, the outgoing CEO of the Capital Markets Authority, who has led the organization to be recognized as the most innovative capital markets regulator in Africa for four years in a row.  He said that a new ATS platform,  introduced at the Nairobi Securities Exchanges, had broadened the capacity of traders, enabling them to do multiple transactions on the same day, while also supporting securities lending and derivatives trading.

Later, in speaking about the capacity of local investors, the CMA CEO spoke of the need to educate, and shift, more retail investors towards long-term gains from managed funds. This would cushion them from the tendency to speculate on quick returns from land, gambling, and pyramid schemes.

Geoffrey Odundo, CEO of Nairobi Securities Exchange, said they had held some positive engagements with the National Treasury to get more big government listings to the NSE. He also said that they now have an Ibuka program to nurture small companies to be more attractive for investments, adding that this was part of a plan to increase its equities turnover from 6% of the total market to 15% in a few years. The NSE now had 12 asset classes including equity and index futures launched earlier this year and had been voted the second most innovative exchange in Africa.

The 2019 AFM Index report can be downloaded here along with a databank summary of the different country rankings under each of the six pillars.

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.

Bank Roundup: January 2019

The boards of NIC and CBA banks confirmed their plans to go ahead with a merger to create the largest bank in Africa by customer numbers. Serving over 40 million customers in 5 countries, the combined entity will have Kshs 444 billion in assets (~ $4.4 billion).

Currently, they are both at 115 billion of loans and have differences in deposits with 145 billion at NIC to 191 billion at CBA and customer numbers of 142,000 at NIC to 41 million at CBA. They had relatively similar customer numbers prior to CBA’s launch of M-Shwari in partnership with Safaricom. 

Going forward they aim to obtain shareholder approval in Q1, obtain regulatory approval in Q2 and have the new entity commence operations in Q3 of 2019. Currently, NIC has 26,000 shareholders and is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) while CBA has 34 shareholders (20 individual, 14 corporations) including Enke Investments (24.91%), Ropat Nominees (22.50%), Livingstone Registrars (19.90%) and  Yana Investments (11.14%). The merger will be effected through share swaps that will result in NIC shareholders owning 47% and CBA shareholders 53% of the new entity whose shares will remain listed on the NSE.

MCB in Kenya:  Leading Mauritius Lender MCB Group has officially opened its representative office in Nairobi. The largest and oldest bank in Mauritius, with $12 billion in assets and a presence in nine countries, it had been licensed in Kenya back in 2015 and it will bank on its new office to gauge opportunities in the Kenyan market and build strategic relationships.

The 19th largest bank in Africa by assets, it is listed in Mauritius and has 19,000 shareholders. It has a strategic objective of growing its international footprint and expanding non-bank activities. It has 1 million customers, 3,500 employees and 55 branches but, as it was communicated at the launch, they have no intention of opening branches in Kenya or East Africa.

Ethiopia Bank summary: Asoko Insight gave a summary report of the Ethiopian banking sector, parts of which are only available to subscribers. While some foreign investment is expected in Ethiopia, the banking sector is already privatized with fifteen of the country’s eighteen banks all having private local owners. The state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia is the largest bank in the East Africa region with 1,280 branches and earns 67% of the sector profits in the country.  It has revenue of $1.3 billion, while 11 (other) banks, have revenues of between $50 million and $500 million, suggesting a more concentrated market in terms of size.

Tanzania:  NMB bank has waived several bank charges for their customers from February 1 including account opening, monthly maintenance, transaction fees, dormant account reactivation, and internal transfers – all in a bid to promote financial inclusion in the country.

Meanwhile, several Tanzania banks have a series of new managing directors including NIC Bank, Akiba Commercial Bank and Bank of Africa Tanzania

Family Bank pled guilty in the NYS case:

Diamond Trust CEO questioned.

Scangroup and Russell in Kshs 926M Mauritius Share Swap Deal

WPP Scangroup and its subsidiary Russell Square Holdings (Russell) and have entered an agreement for the purchase of Russell’s 3,660 shares in Research &  Marketing Group – a market research firm in Mauritius, that is owned by Russell. The shares represent 70% of the shares of the target firm and payment will be by way of 53.29 million shares of Scangroup which Russell Square Holdings (Russell BV) has subscribed for. 

It’s been a decade since the WPP deal to buy Scangroup and the new deal with Russell is meant to improve on client services at one of the largest marketing and communication groups in Sub-Saharan Africa.

WPP owns 50.1% of Scangroup, and after the share deal valued at Kshs 926 million (~$9.26 million), will own 56.25% of the company. Scangroup shareholders must approve the deal and WPP will also seek an exemption from being required to make a formal takeover offer as their increased equity position is the result of the strategic investment in Mauritius restructuring  their balance sheet. They also intend for the shares of Scangroup to remain listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE).

Scangroup reported revenue of Kshs 4.1 billion (from billings of Kshs 14.1 billion) compared to 2016’s revenue of Kshs 4.8 billion (from billings of Kshs 16.3 billion) and a pre-tax profit of Kshs 696 million (compared to Kshs 725 million in 2016). The decline was attributed to the economic crunch and prolonged electioneering period in Kenya. Revenue from outside Kenya also declined due to cutbacks by clients, while digital and public relations were bright spots,  providing the greatest growth for Scangroup in 2017.

WPP Scangroup was trading at Kshs 16.95 per share on the NSE today and the deal comes a few years after the group also bought into Ogilvy across Africa. Scangroup has a Mauritius company that is the holding company for other subsidiaries incorporated outside Kenya including STE Scanad DRC, Scanad Burundi SPRL, Scanad Rwanda, JWT Uganda, Scangroup (Malawi),  Scangroup (Zambia), and Scangroup Mozambique.

$1 = Kshs 100

Depositary Receipts for Afreximbank Investors

Afreximbank, an African multilateral financial institution, is raising equity of up to $300 million and expanding its shareholder base by selling depositary receipts backed by Class D shares which will be listed and traded on the Stock Exchange of Mauritius.

The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) depositary receipts private placement which opened on July 25, and today in Nairobi, representatives of the bank, State Bank of Mauritius (SBM Holdings), and CBA Group (Kenya) met institutional investors as Kenyan pension and fund managers are a key target for the offer. The depositary receipts have also been marketed to Nigerian investors.

Mauritius has long been a financial gateway to India, with over 1,000 funds there overseeing investments in India. But SBM Holdings Chairman Kee Chong Li, was proud to  say that the depositary receipts arrangement was a historic first for shares of  a pan-African bank, arranged by African advisers, to be listed on an African stock exchange.

Afreximbank, headquartered in Cairo, aims to narrow the trade financing gap in Africa, estimated at $120 billion annually by offering intra-Africa trade finance products including local content finance (Nigeria and Angola oil) , special risks finance, a countercyclical trade liquidity Facility (COTRALF – which has provided $8 billion to African central banks and commercial banks in 2016) guarantees, construction & tourism finance, and one for medical tourism.

Afreximbank has 135 shareholders in four different classes: Class “A”- comprising African governments, central banks (include Central Banks of Egypt (9.83%) and Nigeria (7.33%), Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (6.74%), banks of Uganda and Ghana, governments of Nigeria (6.17%), Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya –  in total, 43 Class A shareholders  own 63% of the bank), Class “B” – African financial institutions (including SBM Holdings, Nigeria, Egyptian banks – National (6.62%), Misr and du Caire – who combined own 26%), Class “C” made up of non-African financial institutions (13 shareholders own 10% including China Eximbank (5.48%), Standard Chartered) and a new Class “D” open to individuals that was created in 2012.

Afreximbank has a $12 billion balance sheet which includes $10 billion of loans. For 2016, net interest income was$273 million, and net earning were $113 million – of which they paid $37 million dividends. In terms of their exposure, 68% of lending were to financial institutions, then 16% to the energy sector, while geographical, lending is 43% to West Africa and 42% to North Africa, then 7% to Southern Africa and 4% in East Africa.

About the depositary receipts:

  • New class D shares and the depositary receipts are aimed at sophisticated long-term investors such as pension funds and wealthy individuals.
  • The depositary receipts will be listed on the Stock Exchange of Mauritius.
  • The 6,977 Afreximbank Class D shares are the form of 69.77 million depositary receipts (every 10,000 depositary receipt supports 1 class D share).
  • This is a private placement, and the minimum investment is $30,000. It runs from 25 July to 22 September.
  • The listing will be on 4 October at Mauritius. Currently, Afreximbank shares are not listed anywhere, but, after Mauritius, they may consider listing the depositary receipts in Nairobi and Lagos.
  • Holders of depositary receipts will be entitled to receive dividends as class D shareholders
  • The shares are dollar-denominated which is a stable currency. The placement in Mauritius where there are no capital gains or dividend taxes, and, in addition, the SBM Chairman said that Mauritius will grant residency to (large) investors who buy $500,000 worth of depositary receipts.
  • The target for the Class D depositary receipts was $100 million from African investors, but they got very positive response from beyond Africa that’s more than double.
  • The deal is being handled by SBM Mauritius Asset Managers as the lead arranger, and co-transaction advisors are CBA Capital and Lion’s Head Global Partners.