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* Africa seen attracting large sums as perceptions improve
* Foreign direct investment could reach $150 bln by 2015
* Survey puts Asia ahead of Africa in terms of perception
* Key sectors include consumer goods, mining and financials
* Africa in same rank as Latin America and Eastern Europe
By Chijioke Ohuocha
LONDON, May 3 (Reuters) - Africa could attract billions of dollars in new investment over the next few years as emerging market investors search for higher returns and foreign perceptions of risk improve, Ernst & Young said on Tuesday.
The global accounting firm said in a report titled "It's time for Africa" that foreign direct investment (FDI) into the continent was forecast to reach $150 billion by 2015 from $84 billion in 2010, driven by strong growth in new projects from next year.
Ernst & Young surveyed over 562 global executives on where they would invest over the next decade and 42 percent of them were considering investing further in Africa while an additional 19 percent confirmed maintaining operations in the region.
The report said the continent was becoming increasingly attractive to international investors planning new developments and expanding existing ones and that perceptions were becoming increasingly positive over the longer term.
It identified Asia as the only continent ahead of Africa in terms of investors' perceptions.
"While Africa's challenges are well documented, there is an increasing recognition that the continent is on an upward trajectory; economically, politically and socially," Ernst & Young's said in its 2011 Africa attractiveness survey.
It projected GDP to grow to $2.6 trillion by 2020 from $1.6 trillion in 2008 and consumer spending to increase 62 percent to $1.4 trillion over the same period.
Key sectors targeted by investors include consumer products, construction, telecoms, financial services and mining and metals -- perceived to have the highest growth potential over the next few years.
The survey showed emerging market investors were positive about Africa's attractiveness, viewing the region as critical to their own growth, while developed markets investors were cautious, saying that the region still needed to develop further.
The African continent, home to one billion people, had long been ignored by international investors who only thought of the region in terms of political instability and corruption.
But as the majority of the 54 countries which make up Africa embrace democracy and install reform-minded governments, analysts say the world's poorest continent and least tapped frontier markets could fast become a diamond in the rough.
Ernst & Young said investments in the continent by African countries grew 21 percent between 2003-2010, but actual amounts were less than invested by other emerging economies.
It highlighted the high levels of risk involved in investing in Africa but said the profitability levels compensated for the risk and that some sectors had little competition.
"Despite the improving perceptions of Africa, it is in competition for the international capital and resources that will help drive and sustain growth and social development," it said.
"It is currently ranked in the same category as Latin America and Eastern Europe in terms of attractiveness for investors." (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/ ) (Editing by Ron Askew)