11 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Odds Against ZSE

A leading global investment bank has even compared the attention being lavished at the emerging markets with that afforded to ICT counters worldwide.

Zimbabwe falls within the emerging markets, the growth frontiers global investors have been flocking to as the hunt for better returns intensifies outside rich economies.

The country has been shunned, with foreign investors and fund managers shuttling between the Johannesburg, Nairobi, Lagos and other stock exchanges at the expense of the 79-counter Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE), previously a centre of African attraction and once voted the best bourse on the continent.

Uncertainties around asset expropriation, hostile and inconsistent polices and the outcome of polls expected this year have forced investors to hold on to their purses, despite stable inflation rates estimated at 2,9 percent in November 2012.

The critical determinants of the performance of the ZSE in 2013, which saw market capitalisation slowing to US$3,8 billion in 2012 from US$3,9 billion in 2011, will be whether government would arrest the factors that have repelled investors and rebrand Zimba-bwe, and the ZSE, as an emerging market worth trying.

Transaction values slowed by 6,15 percent to US$448,179 million in 2012, from US$477,52 million in 2011, reflecting a general slowdown in economic activity also reported by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries in November when it said capacity utilisation had plunged by more than 10 percentage points in 12 months.

There are two crucial events this year that were absent in 2012, which could further dent investor perception on the ZSE, and drag the stock market even further down.

Upcoming polls and a constitutional referendum expected in the first quarter of 2013 will reshape policy if the MDC-T romps to victory, or result in the consolidation of current growth-inhibiting laws such as empowerment policies favoured by ZANU-PF, if the liberation movement emerges victorious.

The market could see a first half characterised by investor flight, and those taking the risk to pour money onto local stock would be cautious.

Prices are likely to be heavily discounted, followed by a second half resembling considered positions.

Takunda Mugaga, head of research at Econometer Global Capital, said 2013 promises to be a tough year on the capital markets, but a few investors would emerge smiling.

"The market is doomed because of elections and the liquidity crunch," he says.

"We must remember that the liquidity crunch is not the problem alone. The real problem is the electioneering mood in Zimbabwe, which is scaring away investors," Mugaga stresses.

On a year-on-year basis, the industrial index gained by 4,48 points in 2012 but bears overwhelmed the mining index, which slid by 35,33 points.

"Using the mining index as a proxy of the developments in the mining sector, it implies that there are serious vulnerabilities and threats to that industry," says Simba Jere, head of strategy at Trade Cycles.

The continued slide in mining stocks, which has confronted the ZSE for some time, is what Zimbabwe least looks forward to because the mining industry has been slowly taking over as an economic driver, contributing over 50 percent of total export value.

Indeed potentially bloody elections and the referendum are not the only hurdles.

The missing catalyst on the ZSE, a market many agree can easily strike US$12 billion market capitalisation, has been certainty to replace the heightened fears of expropriation.

In advanced de-mocracies, talk of polls raises hopes for fresh minds to take positions in governments, and with that, investor friendly policies.

The ZSE and most African bourses' curse is that elections trigger acute volatilities and uncertainties that scare capital.

In a hotly competitive African marketplace, convincing in-vestors to return takes eternity.

On the other hand, however, the 2012/13 agricultural season has been bolstered by good rains that have offset initial frustrations and fears of a poor harvest.

Investors will be keenly watching agro-based counters like Seed Co, Zimplow, Hippo, Ariston, AICO Africa Limi-ted, BAT, CFI and Interfresh.

After battling to clear its image from espionage talk, BAT demonstrated how a good rainy season builds a rally in agro-stocks, gaining by 132,3 percentage points to close 2012 at US$4,50, second to Astra, which moved 150 percentage points up.

Outside, agro-counters, heavyweights like the robustly recapitalising Delta Beverages, innovative mobile phone firm, Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, CBZ Bank, TN Bank, which will enjoy the benefits of a recent takeover by Econet, the bellwether counter and coal producer, Hwange Colliery Company Limited, will be the turf for bulls in 2013.

Mugaga agrees.

"I am looking forward to that stock," he says of TN Bank.

"Following its relationship with Econet, it will be well capitalised. Hwange will be driven by recent Chinese deals to build power stations and I still have confidence with CBZ as government bankers," he stresses.

Trading at about US435 cents since January 2 2013, the Econet share price has been showing signs of saturation, but the market spin doctors along Mutare Road, Econet's head office, can spring endless surprises to bolster their share price.

They will certainly surprise the market through TN Bank.

Retail giant, OK Zimbabwe Limited, conglomerate, Innscor Africa Limited, pork producer, Colcom and a rejuvenated sugar producer staafricacorporation Limited, counters that mostly directly interface with consumers, will be among the few top performers.

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