Kenya’s removal of share-ownership cap fails to attract foreign investors

Tuesday December 18 2018

A trader monitors stocks at the Nairobi

A trader monitors stocks at the Nairobi Securities Exchange. Market analysts say foreign investors are wary of Kenya’s political and macroeconomic environment, particularly the country’s ballooning public debt. FILE PHOTO | NATION 

JAMES ANYANZWA
By JAMES ANYANZWA
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Kenya has failed to attract increased foreign investment in firms listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange despite passing a legislation that gives foreigners the freedom to acquire 100 per cent shareholding in these firms.

The EastAfrican has learnt that foreign investment on the Kenyan bourse has remained low even after the government lifted the 75 per cent ownership cap in July 2015, with listed firms grappling with poor financial performance and reduced earnings for shareholders.

Last year, 12 out of the 64 NSE-listed companies, issued profit warnings citing a difficult operating environment while this year six firms have already warned of an expected drop in earnings.

These are Kenya Power, Sanlam Kenya, Centum Investments Ltd, Bamburi Cement, Housing Finance and Sameer Africa.

According to NSE’s shareholder data released by the Capital Markets Authority, only 29 per cent of the 63 firms listed on the NSE as at September 30 are majority-owned by foreign investors while locals, who include investors from the East African Community member countries, control 71 per cent of the listed firms.

Shareholding cap

A similar shareholding structure was in place during the month of June 2015, just before the shareholding cap was imposed by the Kenyan government.

Market analysts say foreign investors are wary of Kenya’s political and macroeconomic environment, particularly the country’s ballooning public debt.

Analysts at Cytonn Investments Ltd say the country’s increased borrowing from global markets has made it more susceptible to external shocks and market conditions.

“It is imperative that we be cautious on external borrowing if we are to achieve long-term economic stability. Kenya seems to be borrowing to pay back maturing obligations,” said Cytonn Investments.

Loan defaulter fears

The EastAfrican has also learnt that worries over the possible contagion effect of the ongoing financial crises in Turkey and Argentina have dampened foreign investors’ appetite for stocks in emerging and frontier markets such as Kenya.

“The evaporation of confidence in the emerging market and by extension the frontier market is being propelled by market fear of the contagion from the Turkey crisis and the Argentina crisis spreading to the emerging markets,” said analysts at AIB Capital.

“The fear of Kenya falling victim to the same fate as Turkey, may have led foreign funds to sell securities no matter the fundamentals as most foreign participants view all emerging markets as a homogeneous group,” the AIB analysts added.

The Turkish crisis is characterised by deterioration in the value of the its currency, the lira, soaring inflation, ballooning borrowing costs and increasing loan defaults caused by the country’s excessive current account deficit and foreign currency debt.

It is feared that the crisis is likely to develop into a banking crisis if the lira, which has fallen by close to 40 per cent against the dollar this year, keeps on declining.

Argentina is also going through a similar financial crisis that has seen its local currency the peso weakens significantly against the dollar.

The depreciation of the peso has made Argentina’s dollar debt prohibiting expensive for the government, prompting it to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a $50 billion loan.

Argentina’s high inflation rate has contributed to the trend of global investors shying away from risky assets.

In Kenya, the global rating agency Moody’s Investor Service has downgraded the government’s credit status to “B2” from “B1”.

Moody’s argues that the country’s increased uptake of commercial loans to fund its persistent budget deficit is likely to put more pressure on the government’s cash flow making it difficult to repay its debts in good time.

Currency depreciation

The agency says sovereign bonds issued by frontier market governments such as Kenya will face a much tighter refinancing environment in coming years, affecting the country’s debt affordability and raising its debt burden, especially if the local currency depreciates.

According to AIB Capital, foreign investors have also taken into consideration the risk that the Kenyan shilling is currently exposed to after the expiry of the $1.5 billion precautionary facility with the International Monetary Fund, which was expected to cushion the economy against unforeseen shocks.

“We advise investors on the NSE to brace for the possibility that the sell off will continue in the short-term driven by foreign net selling,” said AIB Capital.

Kenya’s public debt currently stands at over Ksh5 trillion ($50 billion) and the Parliamentary Budget Office has estimated that 53 per cent of the Ksh562 billion ($5.62 billion) the country plans to borrow this financial year ending in June 2019, will come on commercial terms.

Domestic debt repayments are projected at Ksh 506 billion ($5.06 billion) while obligations to foreign creditors are projected at Ksh364 billion ($3.64 billion).

A number of international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the African Development Bank and global credit rating agencies such as Moody’s, Standard & Poors and Fitch have raised concerns about Kenya’s swelling debt levels.

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