South Africa has made great strides since the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the end of apartheid in the early 1990s. The country's growth culminated this year as South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup, a feat that would not have been possible before Mandela took leadership of the country in 1994. The country was banned from international soccer from 1959-92 because of its apartheid-era discrimination. South Africa certainly still has some of its own issues, but the country has come a long way in a short time.
South Africa's revival and assent to the global business landscape has been aided by the country's vast amounts of minerals and other natural resources. South Africa is the continent's largest producer of gold, chromium, and platinum. However, those looking to invest in South Africa-based miners such as Gold Fields (NYSE: GFI ) , AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE: AU ) , and Harmony Gold (NYSE: HMY ) based on the country's burgeoning mining business and the price appreciation of these resources may want to look elsewhere.
According to Harmony Gold CEO Graham Briggs, "Thirteen-hundred-dollar gold is not converting into high South African rand per kilogram." Gold's rapid price increase has coincided with a decreasing dollar, and appreciating high-yield currencies like the South African rand. As a result, in 2009 a 26% increase in gold in dollar terms only resulted in a 6% increase in rand denomination.
Investors looking for gold and commodity exposure in South Africa may do better to look at iShares MSCI South Africa ETF (NYSE: EZA ) , which provides exposure to a broad range of South African resources, of which more than 35% is allocated to materials and energy. However, I would recommend also looking at this South African energy play.
Sasol (NYSE: SSL )
Sasol is a South Africa-based integrated oil and chemicals play, as well as a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. The stock's almost 5% yield is a nice cushion to protect against the volatility of commodity prices. Aside from being a global player in the chemical and oil markets, the company also has a large coal mining operation. However, I am most intrigued by the potential of the company's shale gas property.
Last year, the company announced a partnership with Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK ) and Statoil (NYSE: STO ) to search Sasol's vast land resources for natural gas. Chesapeake, which has very large shale gas resources in the U.S. as well as a vast array of drilling experience and expertise, partnered with Norway's Statoil to help develop its shale gas resources around the world in 2008. The companies believe Sasol also has vast undeveloped shale resources.
The three companies were recently granted a permit to begin searching for extractable natural gas over approximately 21.7 million acres of land in South Africa. That is larger than many U.S. states, including South Carolina.
The potential to find an alternative source of energy in South Africa could be a game-changer for a country that depends on coal to generate more than 80% of its energy. If the findings are substantial enough to shift some of the country's energy usage to natural gas, the ramifications can't be overstated, as the country has been plagued by power outages and high energy costs for years. Businesses and consumers throughout the country will clearly benefit from more reliable and less expensive energy. In addition, the gold miners mentioned above have also been hurt significantly by these problems, so a new energy solution also creates great value potential for these gold miners.
The Foolish bottom line
As South Africa continues to move away from the days of apartheid, its opportunities for growth will only continue to increase. The country's vast natural resources will help bridge the future as the country becomes a greater participant in the global economy. The success of Sasol's partnership with Chesapeake and Statoil will also be important for energy stability and potential joint ventures between South African companies and multinational corporations in the future. The pieces are finally in place in South Africa, and so are opportunities for investors.