IMF warns Africa on financial shocks

The International Monetary Fund warned sub-Saharan Africa's rapidly growing economies on Thursday that they need to do more to protect themselves against financial shocks.

In a sign of the continent's growing role in global financial markets, the IMF urged governments to mitigate the impact of cash rapidly flowing in and out of their economies.

Many African countries have benefited enormously in recent years from investors moving cash out of moribund developed markets in search of higher yields.

According to IMF data, net private flows to sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2012 were double the levels seen in 2000 to 2007.

In 2012 alone portfolio and cross-border bank flows to the fastest growing markets in the region passed $17 billion, with Ghana, Nigeria, and Zambia the main beneficiaries.

Country after country has sought to tap bond markets for relatively cheap loans.

But a possible economic slowdown in China and an end to US Federal Reserve stimulus is beginning to make investors more cautious.

In some countries, like South Africa, that has caused a large depreciation in the local currency, pushing up import prices and fuelling inflation.

More broadly the IMF said the impact of these trends had so far been "muted" but it warned "if the global turmoil persists, risks of contagion and possible reversals may increase."

"As frontier economies in the region become more integrated with global financial markets, they will also become increasingly vulnerable to global financial shocks."

The IMF predicted weaker-than-expected growth of five percent in 2013 thanks to a "more adverse external environment."

It specifically cited "rising financing costs, less dynamic emerging markets, and less favourable commodity prices."

It recommended better monitoring of capital flows and develop tools to limit the impact of surges or reversals in investment.

The IMF also warned that a slowdown in major markets like China could hit commodity prices, with a devastating impact on revenue for many African governments.

The fund however predicted a modest bump in growth in 2014, forecasting six percent expansion for the region.

Despite a variety of headwinds, "sub-Saharan Africa's economies have generally maintained a strong pace," said Antoinette Sayeh, director of the IMF's Africa department during the launch of the report in Lagos.

"This is a reflection of continued sound macroeconomic policies as well as robust domestic demand, in particular investment in infrastructure and productive capacity," she added.

Particularly strong growth is expected in mineral exporting countries, like Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Mozambique, Rwanda and Sierra Leone as well as in Nigeria, the continent's second biggest economy and top oil producer.

Nigerian financial analyst Bismarck Rewane welcomed the IMF's forecast of 7.4 percent growth in 2014.

But he said that increases in GDP must not overshadow the discouraging aspects of Nigeria's economy, including worsening income inequality, rising poverty and a spike in unproductive political spending ahead of general elections in 2015.

The deputy governor of Nigeria's Central Bank, Sarah Alade, said the country could surpass the IMF's growth estimates if ongoing reforms in agriculture and power as well as efforts to tackle the security challenges in the north were successful.

Nigeria is fighting a four-year insurgency by the Islamist group Boko Haram, which has claimed thousands of lives.

Analysts and Western diplomats say the conflict has scared off investors and curbed development.