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.
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).
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”