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BoB double edged sword rate cut hovering on banking sector

Botswana and other developed economies usually take monetary decisions such as to adjust repo rate or interest-rate to keep inflation within a target range for the health of economic activities or cap the interest rate concurrently with economic growth to safeguard economic momentum.

As a globally recognised banking norm or custom, the repo rate determines the Bank rate to which the central bank lends money to commercial banks and this then affects the amount they lend to their consumers.  But the decision to cut or hike the repo rate may also come with disadvantages, hence central banks are often seen to be taking tough political decisions which come as a double edged sword. In the case of Botswana, a surprise development by Bank of Botswana (BoB), at the August Monetary Committee Policy meeting, decided that the repo rate be cut by 25 basis points from 5 percent to 4.75 percent, came with ripple effects according to banking and finance pundits.

According to the recent Stockbrokers Botswana banking sector study, the rate cut will result in a “squeeze” in banks’ Net Interest Margins (NIMs) with no or little pass on effect to deposit rates considering that these are already very low and the need for banks to remain competitive to attract funds. The stockbroker advised that a cut in repo rate or any future slash on the interest rate, will need the banking sector to be vigilant as there will be need to diversify and grow non-interest income.

It came as a surprise when BoB made an important development  in the banking sector by slashing the Bank rate by 25 basis points from 5 percent to 4.75 percent at August MPC meeting. The central bank August repo rate cut came as an unexpected shock to many because BoB has maintained the Bank rate for two years. The last time such a big development in Botswana’s monetary policy occurred was in October 2017, when the Bank rate was reduced by 50 basis points from 5.5 percent to 5 percent.

A lot of questions as to why the rate was cut in August were relentless, with some suspecting the move as political, given that elections were a month away. However, the central bank marshalled its position, saying the interest rate slash was more forecast based as it was a way of resuming domestic monetary policy easing in the backdrop of slow economic growth and inflation.

 Furthermore BoB also suggested that what is rolling out both for the domestic and external economic activity provides scope for easing monetary policy to support economic activity. “With inflation low and stable and inflation expectations well anchored, improving total factor productivity remains key in promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” BoB Governor Moses Pelaelo told journalists after the August rate cut decision.

BoB August move to cut Bank rate was a huge leap, a jump on the bandwagon, as policy makers across were taking aggressive albeit surprise decision to cut their interest rates. Many economists believe this was a general response to the trade war between China and the US, an economic sneeze which got the entire globe to catch economic flu.

In August when Botswana slashed its benchmark rate, there have been a net 14 cuts by policy makers across the world and this is the highest number since central banks around the globe ramped up measures on how to attain growth in the wake of global financial crisis.
In October emerging market and developing economies policymakers slashed interest rates further, as their central banks were joining the US Federal Reserve Bank in efforts to shore up their economies. This month a group of 37 developing economies showed a net 9 cuts last month (October), after a net 11 cuts in September.

Botswana’s economic influential neighbor and big import player, South African Reserve Bank (SARB) in South Africa, decided to cut by 25 basis points, from 6.75 percent to 6.50 percent in July, a month later this country shed the same percent.  South Africa shed Bank rate due to inflationary and economic reasons same as Botswana.


Another surprise is coming soon as the banking sector, experts and observers have not ruled out another cut of 25(or more) basis points rate cut in the short term. BoB has not had the penchant of hiking rates since 2008; instead the central bank has always been keeping the benchmark rate at lows from the highs of 15.5 percent in 2008 to the lowest current levels at 5 percent before slashing it further to 4.75 percent three months ago.

Stockbrokers Botswana in its banking research further said it has conducted interviews, had conversations with the banking fraternities, discussing prediction on the future of the banking sector. Part of the predictions was expectation of another 25 basis points rate cute.
“Conversations with the titans of banking have also led us to believe that we have not reached the bottom of the cycle as yet. There is a general expectation of another 25 bps rate cut in the short term; which spells further pressure on industry NIMs and the increased need to diversify and grow non-interest income,” said Stockbrokers Botswana in its recent banking study.

Financial consultant Fitch Solutions in July this year had forecasted that BoB will cut bank rate by 50 basis point, from 5 percent to 4.5 percent this year and maintain the rate until 2020. Barely a few weeks in the month of August, Governor Pelaelo pronounced the 25 basis points rate. Filtch’s predictions were vindicated despite its rating cut being 25 percent less than BoB’s slash.  Fitch Solutions is the industry-leading provider of credit, debt market, and macro intelligence solutions and primary distributor of credit ratings’ sister agency Fitch Ratings.

Fitch Solutions’ forecast on Botswana that time was due to the slowed economic growth and muted credit growth that has struggled to rebound from a steady decline between May 2012 and September 2017. This year, just into the second quarter, credit growth was 6.5 percent as compared to 2011/18 average of 13.2 percent and this hindered growth of private consumption and investment.

In latest statistics, annual commercial bank credit growth for the year to September 2019 slowed to 6.1 percent compared to 8.1 percent in the same period last year.  According to Stockbrokers Botswana, this slowdown was a result of a contraction in lending to businesses on the back of decreased utilization of existing credit facilities, loan repayments by some firms in certain sectors and base effects from higher credit growth in the second half of 2018. However household credit growth continued to increase substantially as it is driven by this financial year civil servant salary increment, says Stockbrokers Botswana.

October Inflation

Latest Statistics Botswana data shows that prices have decreased to 2.4 percent from 3 percent in September 2019. This decrease in inflation during October 2019 reflects the easing in the rate of annual change in prices for some categories of goods and services, led by ‘Transport’ (from 6.2 to 2.7 percent – largely because of base effects associated with fuel price increase in October 2018). 

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Debswana Jwaneng underground project to cost P65 billion

27th April 2021
Debswana

Jwaneng Mine— by far the world’s richest diamond mine is not about stop any time soon — plans are underway to ensure more gem stones are birthed from the Prince of mines.

Owners and operators of the mine, Debswana, a 50-50 De Beers- Botswana Government joint venture intends to spend over P65 billion to breathe life into the mine beyond the current Cut 9 project. Cut 9, which is currently transitioning from outsourced contractor to in-house operation, will take Jwaneng to 2036.

Debswana, by far one of world’s leading rough diamond producer revealed in a media briefing on Friday morning that an ambitious project to transition Jwaneng from open pit mining to underground is on the cards.

The company top brass noted that studies are underway to guide this massive project. These entail desktop studies of available geoscience information, hydrogeological surveys to appreciate the underground stratigraphy, water table levels, geotechnical composition and of course kimberlites geology.

Lynette Armstrong, Debswana Acting Managing Director said the company will invest all the necessary resources required for prefeasibility studies to determine the best model for undertaking the multibillion Pula Project. “This is a complex project that will require high capital investment over a period of years, advanced skills and cutting edge technological advancements,” she said.

Armstrong stated that underground mining projects have been undertaken and successful delivered before. “It will not be a completely new thing, we will  benchmark from other operations and learn how they have done it, we have a database of former BCL employees who worked for that underground mine , we will source skills locally,  where there are no required skills in country we will source from outside,” Armstrong indicated.

The Acting MD further explained that the company is getting ready for the highly anticipated mega project in different key aspects required for the successful implementation. “We have seconded some of our employees and top talents to benchmark in our sister operations within De Beers Group, to prepare and ready our workforce mind-sets and also acquire the necessary skills,” she said.
In terms of funding, Lynnette Armstrong revealed that Debswana would look into available options to fully resource the project.

“We have been discussing and exploring other available avenues that we could use to fund our life expansion projects, debt financing is one of them, it will obviously have to go through all our governance structures, internally and all the way to the board for approval,” she said.

Debswana Head of Projects revealed that an estimated cost of P65 billion would be required for the entire project from feasibility studies, engineering and scope development, construction, to drilling, sinking of shafts and all the way to transitioning, extracting the ore and feeding the processing plants. Meanwhile the process of transitioning Jwaneng Cut 9 project from Majwe Mining contract to an in-house hybrid model is underway.

The General Manager of Jwaneng Mine, Koolatotse Koolatotse, revealed that Debswana would not necessarily absorb all employees of the former CUT 9 contractor Majwe Mining. Speaking at the same virtual media briefing, Koolatotse said: “Debswana did not commit to absorbing Majwe Mining employees”

Majwe was in 2019 awarded the multi billon Pula contract to deliver the Jwaneng Cut 9 project, a significant investment by Debswana that intends to extend the life of Jwaneng Mine. The contract was however terminated due to “internal reasons.”

“Our contract with Majwe allowed for such termination , where one party on reasons best known to them could walk away from the contract without necessarily stating to the other party why it’s necessary to terminate.” Koolatotse further explained that Debswana has no obligation to re-hire Majwe Mining employees.

“In recruiting new skills for our new hybrid model we are publicly floating requests for expression of interest , that is to say anyone who has the skills we require for our new in-house model is welcome, it will not be based on whether you worked for Majwe or not,” he said.

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Leading global funders jump into Botswana-Namibia mega solar project

27th April 2021
Mega Solar Project

Top development funding institutions amongst them World Bank investment arms have jumped into the much anticipated Botswana-Namibia Mega Solar Project. The multibillion dollar massive project was confirmed by authorities of the two countries late August last year.

The Southern African sovereigns, both of which enjoy massive natural solar exposure, have partnered with Power Africa- a United States government entity to deliver what will be one of the world’s largest solar power plants. The project will see installations built across both countries and the power produced will be exported to the Southern African region.

This week, information emerged that The African Development Bank, The International Finance Corporation and The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development have signed a Memorandum of Intent to open talks for financing the project.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and The International Finance Corporation are World Bank private Investment agencies that seek to support private sector growth across developing economies of its member States. According to sources, the Memorandum of Intent would support the pre-feasibility and related studies required to advance the project.

Botswana authorities revealed recently that the capital raising campaign involving the three mentioned financing organisations would help fund the studies and could be involved in supporting the actual project’s development. It is anticipated, based on previous experience on similar projects, that the feasibility study could cost up to P20 million.

Plans for the 5 GW solar energy capacity to be developed over the next 2 decades for both the African nations, Namibia and Botswana, were first formulated and shared by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Future Council on Energy and the US led Power Africa initiative, in August 2019.

There will be a multi-phased solar procurement program to help these countries get access to secure, reliable, inexpensive solar power at scale.  Under phase 1, the idea would be to procure 300 MW to 500 MW capacity to cover future domestic demand only, phase 2 will see 500 MW to 1 GW capacity to be procured to cover regional demand within the South African Power Pool (SAPP) or through bilateral agreements.

Under phase 3, between 1 GW to 3 GW capacity will be procured to meet demand in SAPP and Eastern Africa Power Pool (EAPP), as per the plans shared last year. All this capacity will be developed through a competitive procurement process.

Botswana and Namibia were specifically chosen for this mega solar project because of their solar irradiation potential, large open spaces and low population density, strong legal and regulatory environment, and low-cost, efficient and smart power-trading potential to meet high regional demand.

“Southern Africa may have as much as 24,000 MW of unmet demand for power by 2040. The market for electricity produced by the mega-solar projects in Botswana and Namibia includes 12 other countries in the region that could be connected via new and/or upgraded transmission infrastructure. As battery storage technology advances and costs of solar storage drop below $0.10 per kilowatt hour, solar power becomes an even more cost-competitive solution,” the World Economic Forum said in 2019.

While the 5 GW capacity will help both the nations diversify their energy mix, it will also help bring down their dependence on South African national electricity utility, Eskom, which has problems of its own in financial and operational terms. Namibia and Botswana will be able to save their resources spent otherwise spent on energy import.

According to the Global Market Outlook for Solar Power 2020-2024 of Solar Power Europe (SPE), Namibia was among the few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to have installed over 100 MW on-grid PV in 2019, with 130 MW added. The 5 GW project with Botswana, if realized, will help the country in its renewable energy target of 70% for its energy mix to be achieved by 2030.

Botswana and Namibia offer the potential to capture around 10 hours of strong sunlight per day for 300 days per year and have some of the highest solar irradiance potential of any country in Africa, which translates to highly productive concentrated solar power (CSP) and photovoltaic (PV) installations.

Both countries have sizeable areas of flat, uninhabited land not currently used for productive economic activity, which is conducive to building land-intensive solar PV and CSP installations. According to World Economic Forum (WEF) key investment challenge for power projects across sub-Saharan Africa is limited availability of foreign currency to permit repatriation of proceeds.

“Given the active diamond and mining industries in both countries, there should be sufficient foreign exchange available to facilitate outside investment,” a WEF report said in 2019. Botswana and Namibia are also working on conceptualisation of the ambitious ocean water distillation project to supply both counties with drinking water.

“We are happy with the prospects presented by this project, because we need water. However, our ministers and technocrats need to determine what is best for us keeping in mind our governance procedures,’’ aid President Masisi Masisi in one of his working visits to Namibia early this year.

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‘Sub-Saharan Africa records slowest growth in 2021’

27th April 2021

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) report on the Regional Economic Outlook on Sub-Saharan Africa has revealed that the region will be the world’s slowest growing region in 2021, and risks falling further behind as the global economy rebounds.

Speaking at a virtual press briefing on the Regional Economic Outlook recently, Abebe Aemro Selassie, Director of the African Department of the IMF, highlighted that although the outlook of the Sub-Saharan Africa region has improved since October 2020, the -1.9% contraction in 2020 remains the worst performance on record.

Even during these unprecedented times of the pandemic, the IMF report reflects that the region will recover some ground this year and is projected to grow by 3.4 percent. On the other hand, per capita output is not expected to return to 2019 levels until after 2022.

“This economic hardship has caused significant social dislocation. In many countries, per capita incomes will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2025. The number of people living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have increased by more than 32 million. There has also been a tremendous ‘learning loss’ for young people. Students in the region have missed 67 days of instruction, more than four times the days missed by children in advanced economies,” said Selassie.

This is feared to risk reversing years of progress, and the region falling behind the rest of the world. The IMF report focusing on navigating a long pandemic has shown that financial stability indicators have displayed little change. But the longer the pandemic lingers, the more borrowers may find themselves compromised, with potentially significant implications for nonperforming loans (NPLs), bank solvency, and the triggering of public guarantees.

So far, financial soundness indicators do not point to any major deterioration in the financial system’s health, thanks, in part, to the exceptional policy support provided by local authorities.
Botswana’s supervisory authorities, according to the report, have allowed their banks to use their countercyclical capital buffers to help deal with the crisis, however, the full impact of the crisis is still to be felt with Regulatory Forbearance scheduled to end in 2021.

This has perhaps prevented a number of non-viable loans from being captured properly in existing financial soundness indicators, the report indicated. The outlook for sub-Saharan Africa is expected to diverge from the rest of the world, with constraints on policy space and vaccine rollout holding back the near-term recovery. While advanced economies have deployed extraordinary policy support that is now driving their recoveries, for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa this is not an option.

“As we have observed throughout the pandemic, the outlook is subject to greater-than-usual uncertainty. The main risk is that the region could face repeated COVID-19 episodes before vaccines become widely available. But there are a range of other factors—limited access to the external financing, political instability, domestic security, or climate events—that could jeopardize the recovery. More positively, faster‑than‑expected vaccine supply or rollout could boost the region’s near-term prospects,” the report stated.

The IMF has called out Sub-Saharan nations to focus on policies and the priorities for nurturing recovery; such as saving lives that will require more spending to strengthen local health systems and containment efforts, as well as to cover vaccine procurement and distribution.

Selassie underscored that: “the next priority is to reinforce the recovery and unlock Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth potential. Bold and transformative reforms are therefore more urgent than ever. These include reforms to strengthen social protection systems, promote digitalization, improve transparency and governance, and mitigate climate change.”

Delivering on these reforms, while overcoming the scarring from the crisis will require difficult policy choices, according to Selassie.  Countries will have to tighten their fiscal stance to address debt vulnerabilities and restore the health of public balance sheets—especially so for the seventeen countries in the region that are in debt distress or at high risk of it.

By pursuing actions to mobilize domestic revenue, prioritize essential spending, and more effectively manage public debt, policymakers can create the fiscal space needed to invest in the recovery.
‘‘The sub-Saharan region cannot do this alone; there is a crucial need for further support from the international community,’’ Selassie said.

Along with the international community, the IMF moved swiftly to help cover some of the region’s emergency funding requirements. This included support via emergency financing facilities, increased access under existing arrangements, and debt relief for the most vulnerable countries through the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT).

“To boost spending on the pandemic response, to maintain adequate reserves, and to accelerate the recovery to where the income gap with the rest of the world is closing rather than getting wider. To do this, countries in sub-Saharan Africa will need additional external funding of around $425 billion over the next 5 years.

However, meeting the region’s total needs will require significant contributions from all potential sources: private capital inflows; international financial institutions; debt-neutral support via (Official Development Assistance) ODA; debt relief; and capacity development to help countries effectively scale up development spending,” said Selassie.
All these issues are expected to be discussed at the forthcoming High-Level International Summit on Financing for Africa in May.

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