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Tough Times For The Cocoa Bean Counters

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Weak global cocoa prices have caused much grief to African producers. Global cocoa futures were down 40% in late April from August 2016, when the decline started.

Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of the commodity, has cut its 2017 budget by 10% consequently. Neighbouring Ghana, and second largest cocoa producer, also missed out on about $1 billion in cocoa export earnings due to the bearish market, according to Joseph Boahen Aidoo, Chief Executive of the Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod), on the sidelines of the emergency International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) meeting held in Abidjan in late April.

The $1.8-billion loan the Cocobod took for the 2016-17 season was spent carelessly or misappropriated to road contracts by Ghana’s erstwhile John Dramani Mahama administration ahead of elections in December 2016, causing it to run out in March. The Cocobod had to seek $400 million in bridge financing via cocoa bills from the Bank of Ghana, the country’s central bank.

Rapid Railway Yet Slow Ports

In light of the debilitating effects their cocoa troubles are having on their finances, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have been forced to collaborate more. Unfortunately, the countries, which together account for about 60% of global cocoa supply, have different pricing systems.

“We are trying to harmonize how we do our systems for trading so we can use that to monitor the market and coordinate the sale of cocoa,” said Aidoo in April.

To reduce price volatility, cocoa producers resolved at the ICCO meeting to better manage supply.

Poor bean quality, especially high acidity, is a downer as well. Farmers also worry about above normal humidity levels. In mid-March, Ivorian cocoa grinders were rejecting as much as half of the beans from farmers, as acidity levels were sometimes more than double the European Union ceiling. Dry weather and bad storage are believed to be responsible for the bad beans.

Although it is hoped improved, but late, rains could see better beans come from the April-September mid-crop harvest, worries remain. The rains were quite heavy in mid-April for instance. As a deluge tends to make pods fall from trees, the harvest may not be bumper. Also, heavy rains raise the risk of a disease or pest outbreak. They also make road transportation more difficult, as roads become less than ideal.

Still, a supply crunch is highly unlikely. For the 2016-2017 season, the ICCO forecasts in its February market review that world cocoa bean production would increase by about 15% to 4.55 million tons, with grindings to also rise by about 3% to 4.24 million tons.

Out of this, Côte d’Ivoire is expected to produce at least 1.9 million tons, 42% of the world total and 20% more than its production of 1.58 million tons in the last season. ICCO projections for Ghana in February for the 2016-2017 season is 850,000 tons. However, Cocobod lowered the target to 800,000 tons in March, a little above the 780,000 tons it produced in the previous season.

An African Darling For Investors

With a glut of the commodity in Côte d’Ivoire and room for more in Ghana, unsurprisingly cross-border smuggling has been rampant. Depending on the times, cocoa price disparities between the two countries tend to encourage smuggling either way. Although farmgate cocoa prices were set at 1,100 CFA francs per kilogram by the Ivorian Coffee and Cocoa Council for the 2016-2017 main crop harvest, a supply glut due to stockpiles in warehouses from crops as late as December have crashed prices. Suddenly, the 900 CFA francs per kilogram for the commodity in Ghana seemed like a steal. Guinea has also been a beneficiary of Ivorian cocoa smugglers, where it is sold for about 850 CFA francs per kilogram. Such is the despair that Ivorian grinders have been able to strike attractive bargains, with offers ranging from 500 to 600 CFA francs per kilogram. A common market would eliminate these distortions.

Incidentally, the prices for manufactured cocoa products, such as liquid deodorized butter and natural powder, have been steady this year. With cocoa prices so low, and European manufacturers enjoying a boom, there couldn’t be a stronger case for more value addition by African producers. – Written by Rafiq Raji

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Economy

Cryptocurrency for Africans

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George Gordon is on a quest to revolutionize the financial system. The director of Africa Master Blockchain Company talks digital currencies, blind risks and board games.


What is this new African cryptocurrency you are offering?

Where the majority of current digital currencies are based on speculative models, AfriUnion Coin (AUC) and the AfriNational Tokens (ANT)are designed for a transactional purpose allowing international payments, remittances, foreign direct investment as well as day-to-day transactions at local retail stores and other outlets. While the option for speculative trade is available with AUC, the focus is not around that.

Each African country will have a specially-designed ANT which will allow users to pay for goods and services and bills easily through completely digital means without requiring any bank account. AUC and ANT will be fully interchangeable to one another and there will be no fees for the user.

It’s the natural next step for digital finance from mobile banking which most Africans are accustomed to. The ability to freely have the power to send and receive money locally and internationally will allow the freedom of choice and spending power many Africans don’t have currently.

What is your own investment philosophy?

I am a gambler! I believe in taking risks and putting things on the line. That being said, blind risk or whimsical guesses don’t get you very far. Always acquire enough information to understand to a reasonable level what the thing you are planning on investing is or how it works and then trust your instinct and gut feel.

What advice would you give entrepreneurs wanting to invest in blockchain?

First, do some research in terms of what the blockchain technology is being applied for or created in terms of its application to an industry or project. Thereafter, check the white paper for the design of the platform as well as its functionality and applicability to what it is trying to achieve. If it aligns with your personal investment rules, then go for it,however, remember that blockchain is continuously evolving and thus you need to explore outside the usual and standard.

First cash-less, now card-less. What is the future of online banking?

If we are looking into what is currently science fiction, I would say the future is digital contact lenses that will be able to connect you to all your social media accounts, internet, news as well as make payments by just looking at QR codes or specialized barcodes to approve and accept payments.

Now, realistically we are not far off from such innovation and technology, but for the time being, I think the next step is scanning of QR codes at retailers and having the transaction automated from your wallet to the retailers digitally.

What is your most prized investment and why?

My mind. I believe that the work I have put into developing my mind, and continue to do so every day, is the number one investment that I have ever done. It allows me to look at things in a unique perspective as well as provides me with the tools to push boundaries and create new opportunities.

Money, success, fame? Which is most important to you?

I would have to say success… because it is most likely going to bring the other two as well, right? But success in the form of starting something and letting it grow and succeed and knowing that something new exists because of your efforts.

What do you spend your money on mostly?

Board games. I love board games and believe it’s a fantastic way to expand your mind as well as have fun with friends.

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Investment Guide

King Price CEO On Why He Invested On Insurance

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King Price Insurance’s CEO Gideon Galloway, who built an insurance company in South Africa worth over $226 million in six years, talks investments, industry trends and how self-driving cars will change the entire car insurance landscape.

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Economy

Offering The American Dream

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Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan of Atlantic American Partners were in South Africa recently looking for high-net-worth individuals wanting to invest in the US.

It’s a warm spring day in September, and Gar Lippincott and Daniel Ryan have just arrived in South Africa. It is Lippincott’s first time in the country, and he is jet-lagged.

A little over two months ago, he was booked to fly here from the United States (US) but was turned back at immigration.

“At Atlanta airport, the lady looked at Daniel’s visa and let him through and she looked at my visa and she said ‘I am afraid you can’t get on the plane because you have to have a blank page on your passport’. I said ‘I have three blank pages’ and she said ‘no, it’s supposed to be the one that says visa on it’. She said it’s the rules in South Africa so I had to sadly go back home… now when I was coming, I was told that’s not an issue anymore so I am happy they have made traveling into the country easier,” says Lippincott.

With a brand-new passport, he’s here with Ryan looking for people who want to invest in the US in exchange for a green card.

Lippincott, the Managing Partner of Atlantic American Partners, says he has always been keen on South Africa for its growth opportunities and prospects.

“From what I understand, the things that are causing short-term decline in the economy in South Africa are set up to provide long-term growth and hopefully people will understand this,” he says. Ryan, the company’s Managing Director of Emerging Markets – Africa, agrees: “I lived in Malawi for 12 years and South Africa is still considered the shining one throughout the continent. Even with all the problems, everyone still wants to come here because of the opportunities.”

According to an AfrAsia Bank report, South Africa comes second to Mauritius in boasting the highest number of high-net-worth individuals.

These are the kind of people Ryan and Lippincott target through their work at Atlantic American Partners. The company has real estate investors and professional private equity fund managers that manage money for banks, insurance companies, and pension funds. In addition, they help people get US green cards and ultimately US citizenship through the US government’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program.

“Basically we look for people who want to move to the United States and we help them do so legally by investing and the nice thing is, with our program, they are also able to get a nice return on investment,” he says.

According to Lippincott, for a $500,000 investment that creates 10 jobs for American workers, you could get a green card in about two years and be a US citizen in about six or seven years. “Twenty seven countries have an investor visa program but with most of them, it’s essentially a fee you pay, or you need to be actively engaged in the day-to-day operation of a business. For example, you invest $1.5 million in Australia, but you need to hire employees and generate a certain amount of revenue. One of the biggest advantages with our program is you actually invest the $500,000 into a fund. We act as a trustee of that money and within five to seven years, they get that money back with a bit of return on investment and you are a permanent citizen in the US.”

Atlantic American Partners invests the money in real estate developments like hotels, apartments and student accommodation.

“What’s nice about the program is it doesn’t only cover the investor; it covers the spouse and children under 21. Our biggest family was a Hungarian family with seven children so they got nine green cards for $500,000,” says Lippincott.

The company says it has had positive response in South Africa. “Two months ago, we were here and we had scheduled six presentations for 100 people and we ended up speaking to 450 people. Most were business people, people worried about the economy, people worried about the political future of South Africa and people concerned about the education future of their children,” says Ryan.

According to Lippincott, despite the news of the clampdown on immigration, the US economy is booming and will perish without immigration. In the era of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant views, that’s heartening news indeed.

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