Many investors see Africa as the "final frontier" as other markets mature. With a population of well more than a billion and many natural resources, these nations have been growing in popularity among investors over the decades. But the region has also been crippled by war and regime changes that have kept many companies and investors away.
North, South, or In Between?
Investing in Africa varies quite a bit by region. Northern Africa is much the same as much of the Middle East in terms of its oil assets and major industries. South Africa is thought to be a more developed market with its strong mining industry. Sub-Saharan Africa is still not very open to international investors. It includes lesser developed economies.
South Africa is the most popular place to invest in this part of the world. It's driven by raw materials and mining to a great extent. It is the largest producer of gold, platinum, and chromium in the world. But its agricultural and banking sectors are also fairly large. Its consumer class is slowly easing their reliance on exports, and this fuels domestic services growth.
Northern Africa consists of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. Many of these countries are known for their crude oil reserves. Libya holds Africa's largest oil reserves, the ninth largest in the world.
Multinational companies have stakes in many of these oil reserves, although politics can impede operations.
ETFs and Mutual Funds
One way to invest in these nations is through exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and mutual funds. Not only are these funds traded on U.S. stock exchanges, but they also contain built-in diversification. They cost far less than building a portfolio with American Depositary Receipts (ADRs) or foreign stocks that trade on foreign stock exchanges.
The most popular South African ETF is the iShares MSCI South Africa ETF (EZA). It's the only pure-play to invest in the country.
There are only a few broad options to invest in the region because the rest of Africa isn't quite as popular. The first option is to purchase Middle Eastern and Frontier Market ETFs that include exposure to these countries. Many of them have very large natural resources, so the second option is to invest in commodity ETFs, like those focused on copper and gold.
Among the most popular ETFs to invest in Africa is VanEck Vectors Africa Index ETF (AFK).
Pros of African Investments
Africa offers the highest return on foreign direct investment in the world, according to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and UNCTAD. But there are also a few risks if you decide to invest here. Companies face a number of hurdles, from civil wars to political risk, as they compete in the region's healthy economies.
These nations have a great number of natural resources, ranging from oil and diamonds to gold and uranium. Many of them remain untapped due to a low human density, along with a lack of infrastructure and financing.
Africa's population accounts for about 17% of the world with nearly 1.4 billion people living in more than 60 territories as of 2021. It creates a huge market for consumer goods, such as telecommunications and banking.
Lack of Development
These nations remain a bit undeveloped with per capita income that lags behind the rest of the world. There may be a huge chance for growth in the future as its population grows and becomes wealthier.
Cons of Investing in Africa
Some governments in this region are known for their corruption or lack of policy. This can lead to a number of problems, ranging from extortion to nationalizations. The lack of policy can make it complex to do business here. There are other risks as well.
Lack of Infrastructure
Africa has a low human density and per capita income. This adds to its lack of infrastructure. It makes it hard for companies to get electricity, roadways, and other needed components to operate in some areas.
Africa is well known for its civil wars and conflicts. They've taken a toll on its population. Regime change can also be very hard for companies to deal with because it causes a great amount of uncertainty.
The Bottom Line
You should weigh the benefits and risks of investing in Africa with great care before taking any positions. It's often a good idea to only allocate a small portion of assets to risky regions like this to maximize risk-adjusted returns.
NOTE: The Balance doesn't provide tax or investment services or advice. This information is presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any one investor. It might not be right for all investors. Investing involves risk, including the loss of principal.