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Seesaw economy: Local firms skeptical

Bank of Botswana’s quarterly Business Expectations Survey (BES), the latest document which represents Botswana’s business community economic perception in its entirety and published by the central bank, paints a gloomy picture of an economy than is bending down to a lukewarm 2019.

“The results (BSE) suggest that firms were less optimistic about economic activity in the third quarter of 2019 compared to the second quarter of 2019,” said the Business Expectations Survey. As they are already feeling the pinch of an already depressed economy according to them, local firms are already seeing a decrease in exports of goods and services; profits; and investment in buildings, plant and machinery, vehicles and equipment, and ‘other’ category in the third quarter of 2019.

The Bank’s quarterly Business Expectations Survey (BES) collects information on the domestic business community’s perceptions about the prevailing state of the economy and prospects. In the survey, businesses respond to a range of questions relating to, among others: the business climate; outlook for economic growth; inflation and business performance over the survey horizon. The survey horizon comprises the quarter in which the survey is conducted, also referred to as the current period, the subsequent quarter and the next twelve months to September 2020.

BES shows results of the survey carried out in the third quarter of 2019, covering the third quarter of 2019 (Q3:2019 – the current period); the fourth quarter (Q4:2019); and the twelve-month period (M12) from October 2019 – September 2020 (Q4:2019-Q3:2020). With the response rate of 84 percent, it samples 100 businesses from eight economic sectors: agriculture; mining; manufacturing; water and electricity; construction; trade, hotels and restaurants; transport and communications, and business services. The response rate for this Survey is 84 percent.

While the focus of BES is chiefly to look at providing survey questions in anticipation of direction of change in selected indicators, it usually extract qualitative survey responses which is believed to provide valuable information to facilitate analysis and inform policy. The Bank further explains that however responses to questions relating to GDP growth and inflation are quantitative and consolidated into simple averages.

The local firms economic forecast also shrunk the 2019 Budget Speech projection by expecting the economy to grow by 3.5 percent in 2019 which is lower than the 4.2 percent projection of the national treasury. Local firms expect inflation to be slightly below 4 percent, agreeing with Bank of Botswana that inflation will remain within the objective range of 3 – 6 percent in the medium term.

Furthermore there is expected cost pressure to rise in the fourth quarter of 2019, mainly reflecting the anticipated upward pressure on costs of materials, wages and transport. But firms expect inflation not to be perturbed but to remain stable and within the Bank’s medium term objective range of 3 – 6 percent going forward. According to BES, firms’ inflation expectations for 2019 average 3.8 percent, suggesting that inflation expectations are well anchored within the Bank’s objective range.

Seesaw year of 2019 to recover towards 2020

A seesaw year according to the economic perception of the Botswana business community as a decline in third quarter of this year which is mainly attributable to weak economic conditions is uninspiring when compared to the better slate of Q2:2019. The third quarter was painted with a brush of gloom by a drastic decline in exports of goods and services; profits; investment in buildings, plant and machinery, vehicles and equipment; and ‘other’ investments.

However as this month of October opens up the last quarter of 2019, BES expect business conditions to improve slightly in this quarter. This improvement is expected to crossover to 2020 and this is when consistent with the anticipated improvements in capacity or resource utilization; production or service capacity; sales; stocks or inventories; and investment on: plant and machinery; buildings; and ‘other’. Despite lower performance expectations, all other sectors, led by the trade, hotels and restaurants and the transport and communications sectors were optimistic about economic activity in the third quarter of 2019, compared to the previous quarter.

External factors made a huge negative impact in mining

In the third quarter of this year, the BES says there was weak performance in the mining and quarrying sector and this could be attributable to the negative impact of the heightened trade tensions between the United States of America and China, which is adversely affecting the diamond market. Mining companies which are mainly export market-oriented firms were less optimistic about the third quarter of 2019 compared to other periods of the survey.

There is however confidence in the domestic market-oriented firms and these businesses are the main source of the economy’s expected jump up in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 2020 and this positive gesture is all thanks to an economic drive by trade, hotels and restaurants, transport and communications and the finance and business services sectors.

Borrowings by the business community

It has also been revealed in the BSE that mining firms prefer to borrow money from international markets and they intend to reduce borrowing from the domestic market. The survey which gathered together business community minds shows that about 73 percent of the domestic firms cited the availability and accessibility of the required loan products as the basis for their borrowing decisions. Some businesses, representing a fraction of 27 percent, borrowing was influenced by affordability of credit facilities and this was irrespective of whether funds are to be sourced from Botswana or abroad.

Last year’s BES showed that majority of firms prefer to finance their business operations from retained earnings and loans and this was the case in the survey for September 2019. Retained earnings as a source of finance is more prominent in the trade, hotels and restaurants, and the transport and communications sectors, according to BES. But the firms in manufacturing, finance and business services and the construction sectors plan to fund their businesses through loans.

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P230 million Phikwe revival project kicks off

19th October 2020
industrial hub

Marcian Concepts have been contracted by Selibe Phikwe Economic Unit (SPEDU) in a P230 million project to raise the town from its ghost status.  The project is in the design and building phase of building an industrial hub for Phikwe; putting together an infrastructure in Bolelanoto and Senwelo industrial sites.

This project comes as a life-raft for Selibe Phikwe, a town which was turned into a ghost town when the area’s economic mainstay, BCL mine, closed four years ago.  In that catastrophe, 5000 people lost their livelihoods as the town’s life sunk into a gloomy horizon. Businesses were closed and some migrated to better places as industrial places and malls became almost empty.

However, SPEDU has now started plans to breathe life into the town. Information reaching this publication is that Marcian Concepts is now on the ground at Bolelanoto and Senwelo and works have commenced.  Marcian as a contractor already promises to hire Phikwe locals only, even subcontract only companies from the area as a way to empower the place’s economy.

The procurement method for the tender is Open Domestic bidding which means Joint Ventures with foreign companies is not allowed. According to Marcian Concepts General Manager, Andre Strydom, in an interview with this publication, the project will come with 150 to 200 jobs. The project is expected to take 15 months at a tune of P230 531 402. 76. Marcian will put together construction of roadworks, storm-water drains, water reticulation, street lighting and telecommunication infrastructure. This tender was flouted last year August, but was awarded in June this year. This project is seen as the beginning of Phikwe’s revival and investors will be targeted to the area after the town has worn the ghost city status for almost half a decade.

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IMF projects deeper recession for 2020, slow recovery for 2021

19th October 2020

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its outlook the world economy projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.

On Wednesday when delivering its World Economic Outlook report titled “A long difficult Ascent” the Washington Based global lender said it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April.  For 2021, IMF experts have projected growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. “We are projecting a somewhat less severe though still deep recession in 2020, relative to our June forecast,” said Gita Gopinath Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.

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Botswana partly closed economy a further blow of 4.2 fall in revenue

19th October 2020

The struggle of humanity is now how to dribble past the ‘Great Pandemic’ in order to salvage a lean economic score. Botswana is already working on dwindling fiscal accounts, budget deficit, threatened foreign reserves and the GDP data that is screaming recession.

Latest data by think tank and renowned rating agency, Moody’s Investor Service, is that Botswana’s fiscal status is on the red and it is mostly because of its mineral-dependency garment and tourism-related taxation. Botswana decided to close borders as one of the containment measures of Covid-19; trade and travellers have been locked out of the country. Moody’s also acknowledges that closing borders by countries like Botswana results in the collapse of tourism which will also indirectly weigh on revenue through lower import duties, VAT receipts and other taxes.

Latest economic data shows that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. One of the factors that led to contraction of the local economy is the suspension of air travel occasioned by COVID-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering through the country’s borders and hence affecting the output of the hotels and restaurants industry. This will also be weighed down by, according to Moody’s, emerging markets which will see government losing average revenue worth 2.1 percentage points (pps) of GDP in 2020, exceeding the 1.0 pps loss in advanced economies (AEs).

“Fiscal revenue in emerging markets is particularly vulnerable to this current crisis because of concentrated revenue structures and less sophisticated tax administrations than those in AEs. Oil exporters will see the largest falls but revenue volatility is a common feature of their credit profiles historically,” says Moody’s. The domino effects of containment measures could be seen cracking all sectors of the local economy as taxes from outside were locked out by the closure of borders hence dwindling tax revenue.

Moody’s has placed Botswana among oil importers, small, tourism-reliant economies which will see the largest fall in revenue. Botswana is in the top 10 of that pecking order where Moody’s pointed out recently that other resource-rich countries like Botswana (A2 negative) will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue.

This situation of countries’ revenue on the red is going to stay stubborn for a long run. Moody’s predicts that the spending pressures faced by governments across the globe are unlikely to ease in the short term, particularly because this crisis has emphasized the social role governments perform in areas like healthcare and labour markets.

For countries like Botswana, these spending pressures are generally exacerbated by a range of other factors like a higher interest burden, infrastructure deficiencies, weaker broader public sector, higher subsidies, lower incomes and more precarious employment. As a result, most of the burden for any fiscal consolidation is likely to fall on the revenue side, says Moody’s.

Moody’s then moves to the revenue spin of taxation. The rating agency looked at the likelihood and probability of sovereigns to raise up revenue by increasing tax to offset what was lost in mineral revenue and tourism-related tax revenue. Moody’s said the capacity to raise tax revenue distinguishes governments from other debt issuers.  “In theory, governments can change a given tax system as they wish, subject to the relevant legislative process and within the constraints of international law. In practice, however, there are material constraints,” says Moody’s.

‘‘The coronavirus crisis will lead to long-lasting revenue losses for emerging market sovereigns because their ability to implement and enforce effective revenue-raising measures in response will be an important credit driver over the next few years because of their sizeable spending pressures and the subdued recovery in the global economy we expect next year.’’

According to Moody’s, together with a rise in stimulus and healthcare spending related to the crisis, the think tank expects this drop in revenue will trigger a sizeable fiscal deterioration across emerging market sovereigns. Most countries, including Botswana, are under pressure of widening their tax bases, Moody’s says that this will be challenging. “Even if governments reversed or do not extend tax-easing measures implemented in 2020 to support the economy through the coronavirus shock, which would be politically challenging, this would only provide a modest boost to revenue, especially as these measures were relatively modest in most emerging markets,” says Moody’s.

Botswana has been seen internationally as a ‘tax ease’ country and its taxes are seen as lower when compared to its regional counterparts. This country’s name has also been mentioned in various international investigative journalism tax evasion reports. In recent years there was a division of opinions over whether this country can stretch its tax base. But like other sovereigns who have tried but struggled to increase or even maintain their tax intake before the crisis, Botswana will face additional challenges, according to Moody’s.

“Additional measures to reduce tax evasion and cutting tax expenditure should support the recovery in government revenue, albeit from low levels,” advised Moody’s. Botswana’s tax revenue to the percentage of the GDP was 27 percent in 2008, dropped to 23 percent in 2010 to 23 percent before rising to 27 percent again in 2012. In years 2013 and 2014 the percentage went to 25 percent before it took a slip to decline in respective years of 2015 up to now where it is at 19.8 percent.

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