31 December 2012

Kenya: The Year 2012 in Review


The year feels as if it has flown by and my head is still spinning. President Bashar Assad was apparently surviving by his fingernails at the beginning of the year and he ends the year still surviving by his fingernails.

The war drums were played hard against Iran but Bibi's hand was stayed by President Obama and the Iranian rial all but collapsed around the Ayatollah's ears.

Xi Jinping assumed the leadership of the second most powerful nation in the world in a process that remains 'a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma' to all but a select few at the very apex of the Chinese Communist Party.

President Barack Obama batted the Romney [whose party wilfully ignored the demographics of the new USA] into touch but now is in a deathly embrace with speaker Boehner, who appears determined to take the US over the 'fiscal cliff.'

Japan bought some Islands for cash and sparked a low level Island fracas with China, which everyone hopes does not turn into a war.

The Europeans watched their euro project get a serious infection and eventually super Mario Draghi came up with a 'parcours'.

The developed world has launched a tsunami of magic money into the system with Shinzo Abe the comeback kid of Japan now joining the party.

The last time this experiment was tried was by Zimbabwe's central bank and they had to give up because the currency went into free fall and before that the German Weimar Republic discovered that the end game was one where it took a wheelbarrow of cash to buy a loaf of bread.

And somehow, we are expected to suspend our disbelief as all this freshly minted money whirls around in the system. Timing is everything in economics and we are at the pre-wheelbarrow moment and our central bankers can point and say; Look it has not happened yet, Its different this time around. Is it really? Or the denouement has just not happened yet.

And in this uncertain world, Africa popped its head over the global radar. The Nairobi Securities Exchange's all-share index has surged 38 per cent this year to be sub-Saharan Africa's top performer in 2012. We overtook Uganda which is a couple of percentage points behind us.

Nigeria has posted a 32.18% return. South Africa has hit a sequence of all time highs. If you care to cross the Sahara into Egypt, you will note that the EGX30 is the 2nd best performing index worldwide having rallied just over 50%. Venezuela is the world's best and has rallied just under 300%.

In fact, the likes of Ghana and Nigeria can today borrow dollars more cheaply than Italy and Spain on the international markets. You might care to ask what is going on?

The merits of Africa have stood out against this backdrop of global uncertainty. Global investors have shone a torch on what was once upon a time the dark continent and everything looks a lot brighter than it does at home.

And they have all decided to add a little Africa to their portfolios and thats why the Africa rally has been so broad based.

Bull markets always have to climb a wall of worry and there are things to fret about. Marikana, the Boko Haram, our elections but when taken in the global mix, these look pale in comparison to the incredibly uncertain developed world.

Drilling deeper at home. You will recall that last year, Nairobi and Mombasa were the best performing real estate markets worldwide ahead of peers such as Miami and Sao Paolo, which you have to admit is an extraordinary and noteworthy outcome.

Uchumi has returned 151.94% in 2012 thats 5 times more than the iconic Apple. EABL has returned +56.686% as its surged to a winning sequence of fresh all time highs in November and December and thats 1.63x faster than its majority shareholder Diageo.

Kenya Commercial Bank is +86.053% this year and sniffing close to a record high. I can guarantee you there are few banks anywhere in the world who have posted such a return. I think we are at the beginning of a multi-year rally in Africa. Have you hitched a ride?

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