Decade of decline: South Africa stocks lose $50bn as foreign investors pull out

By Colleen Goko

It’s been nearly a decade of waning foreign interest in South African stocks, with outflows exceeding $50 billion in that time. 

Last year was the eighth year in a row that foreign investors dumped South African equities — a record-long streak — selling stocks worth $8.3 billion. That took the total since 2016 to $53 billion, based on data reported by exchange operator JSE.

The past decade has been a poor one for emerging markets as a whole, with MSCI’s benchmark index notching a gain of just over 3%. Yet the benchmark index in Johannesburg has done worse, losing almost 6% in dollar terms. The rand, meanwhile, has fallen 42% in this time, a contrast with other developing nations where currencies have generally outperformed stock markets. 

Foreign investors have been wary of South Africa following a slew of corruption scandals, an energy crisis linked to the debt-ridden Eskom Holdings utility and a meltdown at Transnet SOC, the state-run rail and ports operator, according to Ashish Chugh, portfolio manager at Loomis. 

Unemployment and high public debt are also challenges, especially an upcoming election that’s expected to be the most competitive since South Africa became a democracy in 1994.

“This is an election year for South Africa and we believe it will be a tight race. Investor sentiment could improve if the winning party introduces strong reforms and policies to address investor concerns,” Chugh said.

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