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Ukraine Tops EMEA List for Potential Investment

An Institutional Investor survey found hedge funds were the most likely to travel to the country in the next 12 months.

  • Joe McGrath

Fund managers investing in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are eyeing Ukraine, Romania, Nigeria and Kenya for deals over the next year, according to Institutional Investor’s research group.

II surveyed 214 fund managers at 154 investment companies, asking which countries are top of the list for travel in the next 12 months for current or potential investments. Ukraine was No.1 with 32 percent of respondents prioritizing the country, followed by Romania at 26 percent, Nigeria at 25 percent and Kenya at 24 percent.

Ukraine’s agricultural sector is increasingly attractive to investment managers as it has one of the best land banks for agricultural product cultivation globally, according to asset management firm Union Investment. The interest is a turnaround from three years ago when the Financial Times reported that “recent political upheavals” were turning institutional investors cold on the country.

Sergey Dergachev, lead portfolio manager for emerging market debt at Union Investment, says Ukraine benefits from “a low-cost base,” and that its agricultural companies are well-managed and mainly focus on exports. The companies have shown they can cope with a challenging economic and political risk environment exceptionally well, Dergachev said.

[II Deep Dive: Private Equity and VC Investors Pile Into Eastern Europe]

II’s research group found that investors who are most bullish on Ukraine are based in Russia and other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as Eastern and Central Europe. CIS countries also include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Investors in the U.K and U.S. were next in being most bullish on Ukraine, according to II’s survey.

Hedge funds were the most likely to say they would be traveling to the country in the coming 12 months, with 52.5 percent saying they would do so, compared with 27.6 percent of traditional fund managers.

Investors based in Eastern Europe and Russia prefer Romania and Ukraine, while those in the U.K. and Western Europe are looking to explore Kenya and Nigeria for investment in next year, according to II’s survey.

Ross Teverson, head of strategy for emerging markets at Jupiter Asset Management, says the banking sector in Kenya and Nigeria is appealing for stock investments, as shares are relatively liquid and fund managers may build a decent-sized position. Teverson, who is invested in banks in both Nigeria and Kenya, said the management teams are frequent travelers to London, ensuring that shareholders in the U.K. get sufficient updates on corporate plans.

“If you look at the valuations of banks in those markets, they are still very attractive relative to most other equities globally,” he said. “These banks operate with a simple, traditional, model with low-cost deposit franchises and take relatively little risk.”

Other markets that have become “more of an interesting investment opportunity” over the past 12 to 18 months include Ghana and Kuwait, according to II’s Emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa survey.