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).
Following a devastating first half of the year 2020 due to COVID-19, the global diamond industry started gaining positive momentum towards the end of the year as key markets entered into thanks giving and holiday season.
However Bruce Cleaver, Chief Executive Officer of De Beers Group cautioned that the industry is not out of the woods yet, citing prevailing challenges ahead into 2021.
The first half of 2020 was characterized by some of the worst challenges in history of global diamond trade.
The midstream, where rough diamonds are traded in wholesale and bulk to cutters and polishers, was for the most part of second quarter 2020, suffocated by international travel restrictions as countries responded to the contagious Corona Virus.
This halted movement of buyers and shipment of the rough goods , resulting in unprecedented decline of sales, in turn ballooning stockpiles as the upstream operations produced with little uptake by the midstream.
The situation was exacerbated by muted demand in the downstream where jewelry industries and tail end retailers closed to further curb the spread of COVID-19.
However towards the end of third quarter getting into the last quarter of the year, demand in both midstream and downstream started to steadily pick up as countries relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer by value started reporting significant recovery in sales in the sixth and seventh cycle, figures began to reflect an upswing in sentiment as well as increase in uptake of rough goods by midstream.
Sales for the sixth cycle amounted to $116 Million, following a sharp downturn in the previous cycles, significant jump was realized during the seventh cycle, registering $320 million, an over 175 % upswing when gauged against the proceeding cycle.
De Beers noted that diamond markets showed some continued improvement throughout August and into September as Covid-19 restrictions continued to ease in various locations.
“Manufacturers focused on meeting retail demand for polished diamonds, particularly in certain product areas, accordingly, we saw a recovery in rough diamond demand in the seventh sales cycle of the year, reflecting these retail trends, following several months of minimal manufacturing activity and disrupted demand patterns in all major markets,” said De Beers Chief Executive, Bruce Cleaver in September last year.
The diamond mining behemoth continued to register impressive sales in the eighth and ninth cycle signaling the industry could end the year on a positive note.
The momentum was indeed carried into the last cycle of the year. The value of rough diamond sales (Global Sightholder Sales and Auctions) for De Beers’ tenth sales cycle of 2020 amounted to $440 million, a significant increase from the 2019 tenth sales cycle value.
Against what seemed like a positive year end that would split into the New Year Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group, however warned the industry not to count eggs before they hatch.
“Positive consumer demand for diamond jewellery resulting from the holiday season is supporting the continuation of retail orders for polished diamonds from the diamond industry’s midstream sector. This in turn supported steady demand for De Beers’s rough diamonds at our final sales cycle of 2020,” Cleaver had said in December.
In caution the De Beers Chief noted that “While the diamond industry ends the year on a positive note, we must recognise the risks that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic presents to sector recovery both for the rest of this year and as we head into 2021.”
All segments of the supply chain were severely impacted by the global lockdown measures introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020.
After a strong US holiday season at the end of 2019, the rough diamond industry started 2020 positively as the midstream restocked and sentiment improved.
However, from February 2020, the Covid-19 outbreak began to have a significant impact on diamond jewellery retail sales and supply chain, with many jewelers suspending all polished purchases and/or delaying payments to their suppliers.
Rough diamond sales were materially affected by lockdowns and travel restrictions, delaying the shipping of rough diamonds into cutting and trading centers and preventing buyers from attending sales events.
These resulted in significant decline in total revenue for the business in the first six months of 2020. Total revenue decreased by 54% to $1.2 billion from $2.6 billion registered in the prior half year period ended 30 June 2019.
For the entire first six (6) months of the year 2020 De Beers Rough diamonds sales fell drastically to $1.0 billion from $2.3 billion in the prior H1 period ended 30 June 2019. Sales volumes decreased by 45% to 8.5 million carats compared to 15.5 million carats registered in the prior period.
Next month Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka will face the nation to deliver Botswana‘s first budget speech since COVID-19 pandemic put the world on devastating economic trajectory.
The pandemic that broke out in late 2019 in China has put the entire world on unprecedented chaos ,killing over P1 million people across the globe , shattering economies and almost rendering the year 2020 – a 12 months stretch of complete setback.
The 2021/22 budget speech will come at time when Botswana’s economy is still trying to emerge out of this.
National lockdowns and local travel restrictions have hit small medium enterprises hard, while international travel restrictions halted movement of both good and people, delivering by far some of the heaviest and worst catastrophic blows on the diamond industry and tourism sector, the likes of which this country has never seen before on its largest economic sectors.
As Minister Matsheka faces parliament next month, the reality on the ground is that Botswana’s national current cash resource, the Government Investment Account (GIA) is depleting at lightning speed.
On the other hand the COVID-19 economic mess is prevailing, the virus is reported to have taken a new dangerous shape of a deadly variant, spreading like fueled veld fire and causing some of the world’s super powers back to tough restrictions of lockdown.
According official figures released by Bank of Botswana, in October 2020 the GIA was running at P6 billion compared to the P18.3 billion held in the account in October 2019.
However reports indicate that the account could be currently holding just about P3 billion. The draw down from the GIA has been by exacerbated by declining diamond revenue, the country‘s largest cash cow. The sector was experiencing significant revenue decline even before COVID-19 struck.
When the National Development Plan (NDP) 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at a 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.
Taking into account the COVID-19 economic mess in 2020/21 financial year, the budget deficit could add up to P20 billion after revised figures.
Drawing down from government cash balances to finance these budget deficits meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account, hence the near depletion of this buffer.
Meanwhile should Botswana’s revenue streams completely dry up to zero levels; the country would only have 11 months, before calling out for humanitarian aids and international donors, because foreign reserves are also on slow down.
During 2019, the foreign exchange reserves declined by 8.7 percent, from Seventy One Billion, Four Hundred Million Pula (P71.4 billion) in December 2018 to Sixty Five Billion, Three Hundred Million Pula (P65.3 billion) in December 2019.
The reserves declined further in 2020, falling by 2.3 percent to Sixty Three Billion, Seven Hundred Million Pula (P63.7 billion) in July 2020. This was revealed by President Masisi during State of the Nation Address in November last year.
The decrease was mainly due to foreign exchange outflows associated with Government obligations and economy-wide import requirements.
However latest statistics(October 2020) from Bank of Botswana reveal that Botswana’s foreign reserves are estimated at P58.4 billion, with government’s share of these funds significantly low.
Government has since introduced several measures to contain costs and control expenditure with the most recent intervention being the halting of recruitment in government departments and parastatals.
Furthermore, Value Added Tax has been signaled to go up from 12% to 14% in April this year with more hikes and service fees anticipated as government embarks on unprecedented domestic revenue mobilization.
Botswana Stock Exchange listed hotel group Cresta Marakanelo Limited (“CML” or “the Company”) announced the signing of a lease agreement for Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel & Convention Centre, which will see CML extend its footprint by adding the 4 star Gaborone property to its already impressive portfolio. The agreement is subject to regulatory approvals therefore the effective date of the transaction is expected to be 1 February 2021.
CML brings a wealth of expertise to the lease and despite the difficult year for the tourism and hospitality industry, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, CML remains confident in the recovery of the sector and the need to invest in expanding the Company’s footprint.
CML Managing Director, Mr Mokwena Morulane commented: “Our continued efforts to improve our offerings, understand the market dynamics and modern day trends in the face of global challenges, means we are ready for the changing face of tourism and international travel, and this addition to the Cresta portfolio signals our confidence in the future.
“Despite the headwinds faced in 2020, Management has continued to focus on projects that enhance CML’s product offering such as the refurbishments at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa in the tourism capital Kasane and the ongoing refurbishment of Cresta Marang Residency in Francistown. The signing of the lease for the 4 star Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel & Conference Centre is a great addition to the Cresta portfolio and will unlock shareholder value in the future.
“We remain vigilant to value-enhancing opportunities including acquisitions or leases, after having reconsidered our pipeline against current and expected market conditions.”
Commenting on the lease agreement, the Chief Executive Officer, Mr S Parthiban, speaking on behalf of Phakalane noted; “No hotel chain holds as much expertise in the region, understands our local culture and tastes and what hospitality is about better than Cresta Marakanelo Limited. We believe that the renovations done to the property has made Phakalane Hotel and Convention Centre a unique product in Botswana and at par with international facilities. We believe that this lease will benefit not only us as Phakalane , but the market in general as Cresta has run hotels successfully in Botswana for over 30 years and is therefore expected to bring new offerings that appeal to the local and international markets as well as the residents and visitors to the Golf Estate. We look forward to a long mutually beneficial relationship with Cresta.”
CML like the rest of the tourism and hospitality industry and the entire value chain was hard hit by lockdowns with the surge of COVID-19. By investing during the low period, the company hopes to realise the future value of spending time in preparing for the new consumer dynamics and behaviour. Despite business interruptions as a result of a six-month long state of emergency and several lock-down periods declared by the Government of Botswana to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Company is starting to record an increase in occupancies, which bodes well for the recovery of the industry and the Company’s future prospects.