The globalization of financial markets has led to an impressive rise of private commercial investment in emerging markets since 1990. This rise has been driven partly by the growth of equity investment funds--collective investment schemes where individual investors contribute to multiple investments within a single fund--dedicated to investing in companies listed on developing markets’ stock exchanges. Sub-Saharan Africa has participated in this trend, with South Africa rising into the ranks of the leading destination emerging markets and a number of regional funds specifically targeting the continent. At the behest of local governments, and with some donor encouragement, Africa has also expanded the number of its domestic stock exchanges from five in the late 1980s to 15 today. Despite this modest headway, Africa's "frontier markets"--those outside South Africa--still receive only a tiny fraction of emerging markets investment and the widespread reaction in Africa has been of disappointment.
Policymakers in both African and donor capitals have fretted about this lack of response by private investors and frequently ask: why is Africa not receiving more equity investment? In this working paper, senior fellow Todd Moss, visiting fellow Vijaya Ramachandran and Scott Standley address this question and find that African markets are not treated differently than other markets and present evidence that small market size and low levels of liquidity are a binding deterrent for foreign institutional investors. Thus, orthodox market variables rather than market failure appear to explain Africa's low absolute levels of inward equity flows. The paper then turns to new data from firm surveys to explore why African firms remain small. The implications of their findings are threefold: (a) efforts to encourage greater private investment in these markets should concentrate on domestic audiences and specialized regional funds, (b) the depth and success of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange can perhaps be better utilized to benefit other parts of the continent, and (c) any long-term strategy should concentrate on the underlying barriers to firm entry and growth.