Frontier markets divided by low oil prices

Desert oil pumps1The tumbling oil price, which has already had a painful effect on equities in oil-exporting countries, will be a boon for some frontier markets.

With the exception of Kazakhstan, frontier countries in Asia will benefit from lower import costs, as will much of East Africa, says Hedi Ben-Mlouka, a fund manager at frontier market investment firm Duet.

"Egypt will also benefit from a lower oil import bill, and perhaps the opportunity given by lower prices to cut some subsidies," he says.

Michael Levy, manager of the Baring Frontier Markets Fund, echoed the remarks about frontier Asian and East African markets, picking Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Kenya as attractive countries in an environment of low oil prices.

"Two of our favourite companies here remain well placed, in our view, to benefit from an increase in consumer spending power and lower costs," he says. "The first is Marico Bangladesh, producer of Parachute coconut hair oil and other health and beauty products. The second is Kenya's East African Breweries, the largest alcoholic beverage company in East Africa."

Ben-Mlouka predicted the low oil price, which has fallen by a third since June, will bring more pain to Saudi Arabia, which saw a 10% fall in its stock index during November.

Nigeria, which is the largest oil exporter in Africa, will also suffer, he says, because it lacks a large fiscal buffer to spend on countercyclical policies.

However, Levy says the fall in Saudi stock values is not justified, and notes that some Saudi stocks will benefit from low oil prices, such as Al Tayyar Travel Group.

The Brent crude price fell below $65 (€52.4) a barrel this week and a report from Morgan Stanley said the average price in 2015 could be as low as $53, though the bank's base scenario was for an average of $70.

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