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AFRICA INVESTMENT-African tech start-ups dream of Silicon Savannah

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Young techies hunched over laptops in small offices across Africa want to create their own versions of California’s Silicon Valley and some are beginning to attract investors prepared tech to take a risk in the hope of high returns.
One such start-up, a South African social photography app called Over, last month beat 19 others from around the world to win funding from U-start, an advisor that matches mainly European investors with fledging businesses.
Italy-based U-start has 3.8 billion euros ($5.2 billion) under management and aims to allocate as much as 15 percent of that to technology firms in Africa over the next couple of years.
“We are convinced that there are great business ideas that have the chance to become global players, not just local ones,” said U-start Chief Executive Stefano Guidotti.
Still in their infancy, Africa’s technology start-ups matter for the continent because they have the potential to help solve problems in basic services such as education and health.
In Ghana, for example, a mobile app by social enterprise m-Pedigree verifies whether medicines are genuine. Fake medicine is a scourge in Africa and people often have no way of telling whether they are buying the real thing or not.
Africa has nearly 90 technology hubs, gaming research bases often funded by international firms such as Microsoft, Google and Intel, to incubate early-stage firms in cities such as Abidjan, Accra and Addis Ababa.
But while developers have plenty of ideas, many lack the technical or business skills needed to make money from them.
“We are really short on great start-ups that are actually ready to take off,” said Amrotte Abdella, director for start-up engagements for Microsoft in Africa.
“What most angel investors and venture capitalists are looking for is to find start-ups that are tech ready and business savvy,” Amrotte said.
Microsoft and its network of partners listens to an average 20 pitches a month from start-ups looking for initial funding or mentoring to get them to the point where international investors start to get interested.
Venture capital firms are typically looking for returns of two to three times their investment in less than five years, according to U-start’s Guidotti.
Microsoft plans a second round of innovation grants for Africa in June after giving a total $100,000 to five ventures in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.
The recipients include a school textbook subscription service that saves users up to 60 percent of costs and a mobile gaming (www.Techngames.com) company.

“SILICON SAVANNAH”
Nicknames like “Silicon Savannah” are starting to crop up in reference to the tech scene, although there is still hardly any manufacturing of hardware on the continent.
A handful of companies are assembling low-cost mobile handsets as more Africans swap basic phones for Internet-ready smartphones and tablets, but most hardware is still imported.
Internet usage is still patchy with only about one in five Africans having access as many are constrained by lack of electricity, broadband or devices.
One Kenyan start-up is attempting to bridge that gap with a hardy portable Internet router made for hot and dusty African conditions.
Known as the BRCK, the router will cost just under $200 and charge off car batteries, solar panels or mains electricity. Its battery can run for at least eight hours, essential in a region with frequent power outages.
But the rugged brick-shaped equipment will be produced in the United States, not Africa.
“Can we truly add that silicon name into Silicon Savannah. We don’t have hi-tech manufacturing here yet. But we are starting to,” said Juliana Rotich, one of the creators of BRCK. ($1 = 0.7291 Euros) (Editing by Erica Billingham)

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Major housing markets to shine this year and next: Reuters poll

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BENGALURU (Reuters) – The outlook for major global housing markets is brighter than previously thought due to expectations for a broad based economic recovery and easy monetary policy, with only a low risk that a COVID-19 resurgence will derail activity, Reuters polls showed.

Over 100 million people have been infected by the coronavirus, leading to a healthcare crisis and deep economic recessions, but fiscal and monetary stimulus, and the rollout of vaccines, mean the global economy is set to recover this year.[ECILT/WRAP]

While already high unemployment caused by the pandemic is expected to rise further, the Jan. 15-Feb. 1 poll of over 130 property market analysts showed average home prices would rise this year and next in most countries polled.

That compares to largely pessimistic predictions made in September.

An economic rebound, loose monetary policy, government stimulus, pent-up demand and tight inventories were expected to boost housing market activity to varying degrees in Australia, Britain, Canada, Dubai, India and the United States.

“A solid economic recovery bolstered by more fiscal stimulus, still-low mortgage rates, and unmet demand should continue to prop up home sales and construction in 2021,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.

“We expect some gradual moderation in price growth over the course of 2021 as home sales cool, but sparse inventory will keep a solid floor under home prices.”

Reuters Poll: Major housing markets outlook https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/polling/bdwvkybkqvm/Reuters%20Poll%20-%20Global%20housing%20markets%20outlook%20-%20Feb%202021.PNG

Three-quarters, or 77 of 102 analysts, said in response to an additional question that the risk of a COVID-19 resurgence derailing housing markets this year was low.

Although the U.S. economy on average contracted last year at its sharpest pace since the Second World War due to the pandemic, it had little bearing on housing market activity, an immunity the sector was expected to carry this year.

Despite the recent surge in coronavirus infections and renewed restrictions imposed in the United States, house prices there were forecast to rise over the next two years and activity was expected to continue on a strong course. [US/HOMES]

“The recent COVID-19 surge has not had any noticeable impact, with transactions near record high levels despite record high case growth,” said Brett Ryan, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.

“Pent-up activity from COVID-19-shutdowns earlier in the year will soon start to wane and transactions will likely normalize. More housing supply will come online as vaccination picks up at the same time that base effects will start to roll off.”

Reuters Poll: Global house prices outlook – Feb 2021 https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/polling/xklpylyqbvg/Reuters%20Poll%20-%20Global%20house%20prices%20outlook%20-%20Feb%202021.PNG

When asked about the primary driver of housing market activity this year, over 55% of respondents, or 57 of 101, chose an economic recovery and easy monetary policy.

Of the remainder, 20 analysts named a desire for more living space and 18 said a successful vaccine rollout, while six chose fiscal stimulus.

Australian and Canadian house prices were expected to rise significantly this year and next, helped by low mortgage rates and massive fiscal spending. [AU/HOMES][CA/HOMES]

When asked what was more likely for housing market activity, 58 of 100 respondents said an acceleration. The others expected a slowdown.

Those views were swayed by a somewhat modest outlook for the British, Dubai and Indian housing markets compared to the rest.

Indian house prices were expected to barely rise this year despite an economic recovery and supportive policies, and Dubai house prices were predicted to fall at a slower pace this year and next compared to the previous poll. [IN/HOMES][AE/HOMES]

British house prices were forecast to flatline this year.[GB/HOMES]

“While we expect a strong start to the year, we expect momentum to wane following the end of the stamp duty (property sales tax) holiday in April. Towards the end of the year the housing market should settle,” said Aneisha Beveridge at estate agents Hamptons International.

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Windsor and London, Ont. make top three most affordable housing markets for 2020

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WINDSOR, ONT. — While the price of housing has been on the rise, Windsor and London are still considered the most affordable markets in Ontario.

According to a Point2 study, Halifax, N.S., Windsor and London make up the top three most affordable markets in 2020, with most homeowners’ mortgages in Windsor and London accounting for 11.4 per cent of their income.

“In all three cities, incomes have been increasing at a faster pace than home prices in the last decade,” the study says.

With the exception of Oshawa, Ont., Point2 says incomes in all of the 10 most affordable cities have increased fast home prices.

However, according to Point2’s latest study, increased income is “no match” for the surging home prices in the 50 most populous cities. The disparity between home prices and slower moving incomes means more cities are becoming unaffordable.

A market is considered unaffordable when homeowners are spending more than 30 per cent of their income to cover mortgage.

The study says 2020 caused disruptions due to the pandemic, but those challenges are “just the most recent events undermining” homeownership affordability in Canada.

“In the last 10 years, the share of income needed to afford housing has gone up exponentially, with monthly mortgage payments becoming a financial burden for increasing numbers of homeowners across the nation,” the study says.

Over the last 10 years, mortgage affordability has worsened in 38 of the country’s 50 largest real estate markets, and the number of unaffordable markets has jumped from six to 16.

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Even with the highest apartment vacancy rate since 2012, rent in London, Ont. keeps rising

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Even with hundreds of new apartments on the market last year, the average monthly rent in London, Ont., rose by seven per cent in 2020 to an all-time high of $1,119 a month. 

The new data was published in the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s (CMHC) rental market survey, which is a yearly snapshot of the apartment rental market across Canada, which reported London, Ont., saw its lowest vacancy rate in nearly a decade. 

The CMHC survey data from October 2020 suggests the overall vacancy rate in the London region was 3.4 per cent, which is a 1.6 per cent increase in the vacancy rate from the same period last year. 

With a 3.4 per cent vacancy rate, it puts the London region slightly higher than the national average of 3.2 and with a seven per cent bump in average monthly rent to $1,119, it puts London more in line with the national average of $1,508, according to CMHC data. 

“The vacancy rate did increase, however when you break down the reason, it’s more of a supply story,” Anthony Passarelli, a senior analyst with the CMHC, told CBC News Friday.

“The vacancy rate didn’t increase because there was more people renting, it was actually because London had a pretty strong increase in rental units last year.”

Passarelli said 746 new apartment units came online between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020, pushing the overall vacancy rate to height unseen since 2012. 

“It really wasn’t the function of demand being lower for renting. It was more of a strong increase in supply. Generally it’s not that strong an increase, it just happens to be this year.”

The data suggests the surge in supply has not forced landlords to offer anything in terms of concessions on rent. All bedroom types saw gains, with bachelor apartments leading the way with an 8.5 per cent increase over last fall to an average monthly rate of $774. 

It means cheaper apartments are in short supply, according to CMHC data. Last year’s survey suggests only 2.3 per cent of the region’s rentals were considered affordable, which is 30 per cent of average household income. 

While vacancies in the London region may have risen overall, Abe Oudshoorn, a homelessness advocate and the managing editor of the International Journal on Homelessness, said it only reflects the upper tiers of the rental market. 

On the lower end, the demand to get out of homelessness and into housing continues to put pressure on the supply of cheaper rentals.

He said it means landlords aren’t looking to give concessions on rent, even with the pandemic still raging, because once it’s over they know it will be back to business as usual and they can almost name their price. 

“If you’re a landlord you know this is time-limited,” Oudshoorn said. “There’s not a huge motivation to sign yourself into a renter at a lower rate if you know it’s going to pick up.”

It’s why the homelessness situation in the city seems worse than ever before, he said, even with the public sector providing temporary housing through the course of the pandemic. 

“We have a temporary mitigation right now, it’s the WISH project and it’s the motel hotels.”

WISH, or the COVID-Winter Interim Solution to Homelessness, is a coalition to try new solutions for survival and sheltering during London’s coldest months. This winter, the City of London is funding two temporary shelters for up to sixty people.

“It has de-intensified shelters and allowed them to make their COVID changes and decreased the number of folks who are urban camping at the moment.”

Oudshoorn said governments need to invest in more housing that’s geared to income, which would alleviate the stress on the apartment rental market caused by competition between people with low to moderate income looking for cheaper accommodations. 

“It’s not like we’re even investing to build at the bottom end, we’re just investing to stop the inflation of rent,” he said, noting most attempts at subsidizing rent are aimed at affordable housing rather than geared-to-income. 

Come spring, temporary housing for the city’s homeless will end. If the federal government makes good on its promise to give each Canadian a jab of COVID-19 vaccine by September, Oudshoorn said competition for an affordable apartment will become even more intense. 

“It is bleak,” he said. “Londoners are often being priced out of both the purchase and the rental market by folks across the province.”

Passarelli said he agrees with Oudshoorn’s interpretation of the rental market, adding the same trend is being reflected in most cities across the province. 

“I definitely agree. The data bears that out and this is not just in London. This is in most markets in Ontario. It’s harder to find a lower rent apartment, there’s more demand there.”

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