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).
Botswana’s economy showed slight growth signs in the first quarter of 2021, following a devastating year in 2020.
During 2020, the entire second quarter was on zero economic activity as the country went on total lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
Diamond trade plummeted to record low levels as global travel restrictions halted movement of both goods and people and muted trade.
The end result was a significant decline for the local economy, at an estimated 7 percent contraction, just marginally below the 2008/09 global financial crises.
According to figures released by Statics Botswana this week, the country’s nominal Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of 2021 was P47.739 billion compared to a revised P45.630 billion registered during the previous quarter.
This represents a quarterly increase of 4.6 percent in nominal terms between the two periods.
During the quarter, Public Administration and Defence became the major contributor to GDP by 18.4 percent, followed by Wholesale & Retail by 11.4 percent. The contribution of other sectors was below 6.0 percent, with Water and Electricity Supply being the lowest at 1.6 percent.
Real GDP for the first quarter of 2021 increased by 0.7 percent compared to a contraction of 4.6 percent registered in the previous quarter.
The improvement in the first quarter 2021 GDP reflected continued efforts to reopen businesses and resume activities that were postponed or restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The real GDP increased by 0.7 percent during the period under review, compared to an increase of 1.2 percent in the same quarter of 2020.
The recovery in the domestic economy was observed across majority of industries except Accommodation & Food Services, Mining & Quarrying, Manufacturing, Construction, Other Services and Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing.
The overall slow performance of the economy was mainly due to the impact of measures that were put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Non-mining GDP increased by 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 4.0 percent increase registered in the same quarter of the previous year.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing industry decreased by 2.0 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, relative to a contraction of 5.2 percent registered during the same quarter of 2020.
The main driver of the unfavorable performance stems from a decrease in real value added of Livestock farming by 3.0 percent.
Mining and Quarrying registered a decrease 11.4 percent in the real value added, this was mainly influenced by the drop in the Gold and Diamond real value added by 17.5 and 12.5 percent respectively.
Diamond production in carats went down by 12.1 percent while the tonnage of Gold produced went down by 17.5 percent.
The poor performance of the diamond sub-industry is attributed to the reduction in production due to a lower grade feed to the plant at Orapa in response to heavy rainfall and operational issues, including continued power supply disruptions.
With regard to Gold is due to diminishing resource base which affect production.
The Manufacturing industry recorded a decline of 7.4 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, compared to a decrease of 2.3 percent registered in the corresponding quarter of 2020.
The deep low performance in the industry is observed in the two major sub-industries of Beverages & tobacco and Diamond cutting, polishing and setting by 57.0 and 38.5 percent respectively.
The reduction in Beverages is attributed to alcohol sale ban imposed during the quarter under review in order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On the other hand, exports of polished diamonds went down by 24.9 percent compared to a decrease of 11.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year.
The construction industry recorded a decline of 4.8 percent compared to an increase of 4.3 percent realized in the corresponding quarter in 2020.
This industry comprises of buildings construction, civil engineering and specialized construction activities. The industry is still showing signs of the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. The industry recorded a negative growth of 7.4 percent in the previous quarter.
Water and Electricity Water and Electricity value added at constant 2016 prices for the first quarter of 2021 was P506.2 million compared to P378.2 million registered in the same quarter of 2020, recording a growth of 33.8 percent.
In the first quarter of 2021, Electricity recorded a significant growth of 62.4 percent compared to a decrease of 67.6 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2020.
The local electricity production increased by 22.4 percent while Electricity imports decreased by 33.3 percent during quarter under review. The water industry recorded a value added of P231.3 million compared to P209.0 million registered in the same quarter of the previous year, registering an increase of 10.7 percent.
Wholesale and Retail Trade real value added increased by 11.4 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to an increase of 5.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The industry deals with sales of fast moving consumer goods.
Diamond Traders recorded a significant growth of 112.7 percent as opposed to a decline of 22.7 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter last year. The positive growth is due to improved demand of diamonds from the global market.
The Transport and Storage value added increased by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to a 2.4 percent increase recorded in the same quarter of the previous year.
The slight improved performance of the industry was mainly attributed to the increase in real value added of Road Transport and Post & Courier Services by 4.3 and 2.1 percent respectively.
The slow growth was influenced by a significant reduction in Air Transport services of 69.7 percent due to reduced number of passengers carried. Rail goods traffic in tonnes went down by 6.4 percent and passenger rail transport was not operating during the quarter under review.
Accommodation and Food Services Accommodation and Food Services real value added declined by 31.7 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to a decrease of 4.4 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The reduction is largely attributed to a decrease of 42.1 percent in real value added of the Accommodation activities subindustry.
The suspension of air travel occasioned by Covid-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering the borders of the country and hence affecting the output of Hotels and Restaurants industry. COVID-19 restriction measures resulted in reduced demand for leisure and conferencing activities, as conferences are largely held through virtual platforms.
Finance, Insurance and Pension Funding industry registered a positive growth of 8.3 percent due to the favorable performance from monetary intermediation and Central Banking Services by 16.4 and 5.4 percent respectively during quarter under review.
It is still tough in the tourism industry — big players in this sleeping giant are not having it easy, but options are being explored to keep the once vibrant multibillion Pula sector alive until the world gets back to normalcy.
One of the primary measures against the spread of Covid-19 is to stay home; this widely pronounced precaution against the global contagion that has claimed over 4 million lives across the world is however a thorn in the flesh of one of the major industries in the global economy — the tourism sector .
This sector is underpinned by travel – an act which is the virus‘ number one mode of spread, especially across borders.
Chobe Holdings Limited, one of Botswana’s leading high end eco-tourism giants said its survival strategies are underpinned by well-crafted stakeholder engagements in the mist of these unprecedented times of muted trading activity.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Chobe continued to invest in and strengthen its relationships with key stakeholders in both its traditional markets and the SADC region,” the company directors updated shareholders this week.
To keep the business afloat, the company which owns and operates some of the exquisite tourism destinations along the banks of the mighty Chobe said it has triggered its existing available debt financing avenues.
Chobe revealed that its current overdraft of BWP 25 million has been extended on favourable terms.
The company shared that it has negotiated a further USD 1.5 million (over P16 million) standby loan with a flexible settlement terms and preferable cost implications to the bottom line.
“We are confident that the Group has sufficient cash inflows, cash reserves and un-utilized prearranged borrowing in place to settle any liabilities falling due and support the smooth recovery of operations in the short and medium term,” the company directors said, noting that they will retain the flexibility to vary operations should market conditions change.
Early this year, Chobe announced that the ongoing crisis in the tourism industry forced the company to draw from its prearranged overdraft facility of P25 million to the extent of P11.6 million.
Last year Chobe’s occupancy levels around its lodges and hotels went down 89 percent. This resulted in unprecedented revenue decline of 93% to P27.78 million from the P373.94 million in the previous year ended February 2020.
Operating profits went down 159% with profit after tax down 170%, mirroring a loss of over P67 million.
Chobe management said during the last half of the financial year they have done all they could to contain costs across the company’s operations.
During the last half of the year Chobe’s marketing and reservations teams continued to pursue the “don’t cancel but defer policy”.
“We thus continue to hold advance travel receipts, to the value of about P34 million at the financial year end,” the company revealed early this year.
Chobe said it continues to engage Government, through HATAB and BTO to prioritize the vaccination of workers in the tourism sector.
“Throughout the pandemic we have ensured that employees are trained in and comply with COVID-19 infection mitigation protocols as well as ensuring that all visitors to our remote camps and lodges as well as our staff and contractors are tested for COVID-19 before reaching the camp or lodges,” the company said.
However, the company said vaccinating the tourism staff will provide the best way to ensure that both employees and guests are protected from the virus.
“We continue to manage our cashflow through stringent cost control measures, balanced against the protection of the Group’s physical assets and the wellbeing and retention of its people,” the company said.
Chobe has successfully retained its top management through the pandemic. To this end the company directors continue to closely monitor the Group’s recovery from COVID-19 and adjust salary reductions to support operations and aid retention.
Domestic and regional travel resumed during the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year with the Group opening a strategic mix of camps and lodges.
A comprehensive domestic, regional and international marketing plan was put in place to support these openings.
International travel resumed in the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year with occupancies forecast to steadily increase, albeit from a low base, through the second quarter.
The company is optimistic that forward bookings are strong for the 2022/23 financial year.
“There is pent-up demand from our traditional source markets to travel now, but this is tempered by uncertainty and access constraints,” the company stated.
“Both the domestic and international markets are sensitive to such uncertainty, and it is critical that both the private and public sector work together to develop and publish clear, authoritative and consistent travel information in order to build confidence”
Chobe entered the pandemic with the Shinde camp rebuild in progress — one of its high end camps and this was completed in the first half of the 2020/21 financial year accounting for the majority of the Group’s capital expenditure for that period.
De Beers Group, the world’s leading rough diamonds producer by value and Botswana’s partner in the diamond business, ramped up its production in the second quarter of 2021, in response to stronger demand for rough diamonds in the global markets.
The London headquartered diamond mining giant revealed in its production report this week that rough diamonds output increased by 134% to 8.2 million carats in the three(3) months of quarter 2 2021, “reflecting planned higher production to meet stronger demand for rough diamonds”.
This was against the backdrop of curtailed demand in the same quarter last year, mirroring the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns across southern Africa during that period.
In Botswana, where De Beers sources majority of its rough diamonds through partly government owned Debswana, production increased by 214% to 5.7 million carats. The percentage jump mirrored planned low production in the second quarter of 2020 where output was adjusted to market demands and implemented Covid-19 protocols.
Debswana operates four (4) Mines: Jwaneng Mine- being its flagship producer and largest revenue contributor. Jwaneng Mine which is the wealthiest diamond mine in the world by value is envisaged for multi-billion expansion to an underground operation in future to stretch its existence by few more decades.
The underground project which is anticipated to cost a whooping P65 billion will be the world‘s largest underground diamond mine.
The company which accounts for over 65 % of De Beers’s global production also operates Orapa Mine- one of the world’s largest by area, Letlhakane Mine currently a tailings treatment operation and Damtshaa Mine which is under care and maintenance following market shrink in 2020.
Namibia production decreased by 6% to 0.3 million carats, primarily due to planned maintenance of the Mafuta vessel which was completed in the quarter and another vessel remaining demobilized. In Namibia De Beers sources diamonds both in land and marine through Namdeb and Debmarine respectfully.
In South Africa-the spiritual home ground of De Beers Group, production increased by 130% to 1.3 million carats, due to planned treatment of higher grade ore from the final cut of the Venetia open pit, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown in Q2 2020.
Production in Canada increased by 14% to 0.9 million carats, primarily reflecting the impact of the Covid-19 measures implemented in Q2 2020.
De Beers said consumer demand for polished diamonds continued to recover, leading to strong demand for rough diamonds from midstream cutting and polishing centers, despite the impact on capacity from the severe Covid-19 wave in India during April and May.
Rough diamond sales totaled 7.3 million carats (6.5 million carats on a consolidated basis), from two Sights, reflecting the impact of the reduced Indian midstream capacity on Sight 4, compared with 0.3 million carats (0.2 million carats on a consolidated basis) from two Sights in Q2 2020, and 13.5 million carats (12.7 million carats on a consolidated basis) from three Sights in Q1 2021.
The H1 2021 consolidated average realized price increased by 13% to $135/ct (H1 2020: $119/ct), driven by an increased proportion of higher value rough diamonds sold.
While the average price index remained broadly flat, the closing index increased by 14% compared to the start of 2021, reflecting tightness in inventories across the diamond value chain as well as positive consumer demand for polished diamonds.
Full Year Guidance Production guidance is tightened to 32–33 million carats (previously 32-34 million carats (100% bases)), subject to trading conditions and the extent of any further Covid-19 related disruptions.
When commenting to 2021 quarter 2 production figures, Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of Anglo American- De Beers parent, said the entire Anglo American Group delivered a solid operational performance supported by comprehensive Covid-19 measures to help safeguard the lives and livelihoods of its workforce and host communities.
“We have generally maintained operating levels at approximately 95% of normal capacity and, as a consequence, production increased by 20% compared to Q2 of last year, with planned higher rough diamond production at De Beers” he said.