Country conundrums

By Elissa Bayer, January 19, 2012
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Entering 2012 it is obvious that the problems of the Eurozone are not going to be sorted out quickly or in a neat and tidy way.

There continues to be no sign of countries working together and managing the situation, and the "Merkozy" alliance does not fill one with confidence. Announcements on the fate of Hungary and whether countries are going to get a ratings downgrade does not help either. Europe continues to have a big question mark over it.

I was lucky enough to spend the start of this year in Botswana, out of reach of the Blackberry - or any news at all. It was fascinating to reach Zimbabwe to watch Al Jazeera and learn about Syria direct from Damascus, which of course the BBC cannot do. There is much going on in the region which will continue to destabilise the individual countries and their economies.

Africa is a continent made up of many countries, rather like Europe, and all performing at vastly differing rates.

Botswana has two million people living in a country the size of France. Its economy relies on diamonds, coal and tourism to a great extent, and up-market tourism would seem to be performing strongly. The government has taken a view that mass market tourism is not what they want to offer, and clearly people are prepared to pay as long as the lions keep showing.

Zimbabwe on the other hand, has the trappings of a more sophisticated economy but below the surface there are problems. Bartering pens and even trainers indicate how desperate people are to get goods. Figuring out how to make money for investors in Africa is a conundrum, but it is sensible to avoid lumping all the countries together as each is performing at a different rate.

The US economy continues to surprise and move forward. It is such a big area that different States move up and down individually and the third and fourth quarter earnings coming through for last year are surprisingly encouraging.

US commentators are quick to point out that trade with the Eurozone is minimal and therefore European worries are unlikely to affect them very much- a theme that America has constantly expressed over the years. Europe remains a long way away for most Americans and that is unlikely to alter.

The investor in 2012 has much to think about. China remains a beacon but the US is clearly leading the way for the first quarter and that seemed unlikely in the first quarter of 2011.

Elissa Bayer is an investment director at Williams de Broë

    Last updated: 11:39am, January 19 2012