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Moody’s cautions Letshego over credit risk from Pan African expansion

Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed pan African services group Letshego Holdings Limited has maintained its credit rating Ba2 Corporate Family Ratings (CFR) from Moody’s , a US Bases international credit rating agency.

In a rating assessment published by Moody’s on Monday, the New York headquartered agency says their credit analysis assign a Ba2 Corporate Family Rating (CFR) and Ba3/Not Prime issuer ratings to Letshego Holdings Limited because the company’s outlook is stable.
 “The stable outlook reflects our expectation that the company's financial fundamentals will remain robust over the next 12 to 18 months, despite elevated credit risks from its regional expansion,” says Moody’s.

The Agency notes that Letshego’s credit strength are in particular the company’s gradual diversification of its business model across products and countries as well as solid capitalization buffers and profitability, supported by high margins. Moody’s underscored Letshego’s credit challenges as predominately the fact that the company’s credit profile is  sensitive to changes in regulatory and legal frameworks  as it continues on Pan African expansion wave. “Capital is sensitive to Letshego's large foreign currency exposures and asset quality risks will remain elevated as well as high reliance on wholesale market funding and weak liquidity metrics,” explained the US based International finance & economic observer.

On the negative credit fronts Moody’s says  negative pressure could be exerted on Letshego's rating if regional authorities in the company's main operating markets change the terms of, or impose restrictions on, the deduction  of loan repayments at source ,  from the wages of public-sector employees, leading to a sharp rise in bad debts and impairment costs.

 In addition, negative pressure could be exerted on the rating if Letshego’s expansion in other sub-Saharan markets, client segments and products, results in a material weakening of asset quality and profitability metrics and if Letshego’s capitalization metrics were to materially weaken. “Letshego's issuer ratings could be downgraded due to adverse changes to its debt capital structure that would lower the recovery rate for senior unsecured debt classes,” reads a comment in the rating assessment.

Letshego has a niche franchise specializing in unsecured loans to government and quasi-government employees under the payroll deduction model accounting for around 86% of its total loans. Under this model, loan repayments are taken directly from the employer prior to the distribution of monthly salaries. Letshego’s business model benefits from a quick and efficient loan-approval and disbursement process and has historically led to fairly low credit costs and strong profitability.

Moody’s however says the company’s concentration to payroll deduction products exposes the company to adverse developments in the regulatory and legal framework that may either hamper the payroll deduction process   impose or lower caps on the effective interest rate the company can charge on loans.

To counter these risks, Letshego has been increasing its geographical diversification and has a strategy to diversify its business model by becoming a pan-African financial services company. As part of this strategy it has completed various acquisitions across Africa by acquiring banking and deposit taking licenses in several territories including Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Namibia, and aims to convert its loan-only clients into transactional clients.

 However, the company has experienced high rotation among top management positions over the last 12 months which may slow down the implementation of its strategy. Currently, the company has operations in eleven sub-Saharan African countries with a strong niche franchise within Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique where it offers payroll loans to around 20%, 51% and 22% of all government employees as of June 2018, respectively. Outside these three markets, Letshego currently exhibits a lower franchise sustainability given its weaker brand name and lower market penetration

“Letshego's expansion will gradually reduce its overall dependence on payroll lending by broadening customer segments and products; at the same time supporting its deposit mobilization capabilities,” shared Moody’s. The credit rating agency further says going forward; the company will need to manage potentially elevated credit losses from riskier non-payroll related loans, albeit compensated by higher margins higher sub-Saharan Africa country risks and its relative inexperience in these newer markets and product offerings.

According to the agency‘s detailed rating analysis the Ba2 CFR captures Letshego’s solid capitalization and profitability, supported by its niche, low-cost, franchise. They also capture Letshego's growing diversification across regional countries. These strengths are balanced against Letshego's  narrow, albeit gradually diversifying, business model with a high reliance on payroll deductions for loan repayment collections, high exposure to foreign exchange risk, elevated asset quality risks  and  dependence on market-sensitive wholesale funding, although actions are being taken to address this weakness.

No external support has been considered in Letshego's ratings given its limited importance to Botswana’s payment system and its immaterial holdings of customer deposits. Letshego's Ba3 issuer ratings are positioned one notch below its Ba2 CFR given the structural subordination of unsecured obligations under Moody's Loss Given Default (LGD) model for speculative grade companies.

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Business

BITC assisted companies rake in P2.96 billion in export earnings

21st June 2022
BITC-CEO-Keletsositse-Olebile

Despite Covid-19 interrupting trade worldwide, exporting companies in Botswana which benefited from the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) services realised P2.96 billion in export earnings during the period from April 2020 to March 2021.

In the preceding financial year, the sale of locally manufactured products in foreign markets had registered export revenue of P2, 427 billion against a target of P3, 211 billion BITC, which celebrates 10 years since establishment, continues to carry out several initiatives targeted towards expanding the Botswana export base in line with Botswana’s desire to be an export led economy, underpinned by a robust export promotion programme in line with the National Export Strategy.

The main products exported were swamp cruiser boats, pvc tanks and pvc pipes, ignition wiring sets, semi-precious stones, veterinary medicines, hair braids, coal, textiles (towels and t-shirts) and automobile batteries. These goods were destined mainly for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Austria, Germany, and Namibia.

With Covid-19 still a problem, BITC continues to roll out targeted virtual trade promotion missions across the SADC region with a view to seeking long-lasting market opportunities for locally manufactured products.

Recently, the Centre facilitated participation for Botswana companies at the Eastern Cape Development Council (ECDC) Virtual Export Symposium, the Botswana-Zimbabwe Virtual Trade Mission, the Botswana-Zambia Virtual Trade Mission, Botswana-South Africa Virtual Buyer/Seller Mission as well as the Botswana-Namibia Virtual Trade Mission.

BITC has introduced an e-Exporting programme aimed at assisting Botswana exporters to conduct business on several recommended e-commerce platforms. Due to the advent of COVID-19, BITC is currently promoting e-trade among companies through the establishment of e-commerce platforms and is assisting local companies to embrace digitisation by adopting e-commerce platforms to reach export markets as well as assisting local e-commerce platform developers to scale up their online marketplaces.

During the 2019/2020 financial year, BITC embarked on several initiatives targeted at growing exports in the country; facilitation of participation of local companies in international trade platforms in order to enhance export sales of local products and services into external markets.

BITC also helped in capacity development of local companies to compete in global markets and the nurturing of export awareness and culture among local manufacturers in order to enhance their skills and knowledge of export processes; and in development and implementation of trade facilitation tools that look to improve the overall ease of doing business in Botswana.

As part of building export capacity in 2019/20, six (6) companies were selected to initiate a process to be Organic and Fair Trade Certified. These companies are; Blue Pride (Pty) Ltd, Motlopi Beverages, Moringa Technology Industries (Pty) Ltd, Sleek Foods, Maungo Craft and Divine Morula.

In 2019 seven companies which were enrolled in the Botswana Exporter Development Programme were capacitated with attaining BOBS ISO 9001: 2015 certification. Three (3) companies successfully attained BOBS ISO 9001:2015 certification. These were Lithoflex (Pty) Ltd, General Packaging Industries and Power Engineering.

BITC’s annual flagship exhibition, Global Expo Botswana (GEB) to create opportunities for trade and strategic synergies between local and international companies. The Global Expo Botswana) is a premier business to business exposition that attracts FDI, expansion of domestic investment, promotion of exports of locally produced goods and services and promotion of trade between Botswana and other countries.

Another tool used for export development by BITC is the Botswana Trade Portal, which has experienced some growth in terms of user acceptance and utilisation globally. The portal provides among others a catalogue of information on international, regional and bilateral trade agreements to which Botswana is a party, including the applicable Rules, Regulations and Requirements and the Opportunities for Botswana Businesses on a product by product basis.

The portal also provides information on; measures, legal documents, and forms and procedures needed by Botswana companies that intend on doing business abroad. BITC continues to assist both potential and existing local manufacturing and service entities to realise their export ambitions. This assistance is pursued through the ambit of the Botswana Exporter Development Programme (BEDP) and the Trade Promotion Programme.

BEDP was revised in 2020 in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a vision to developing a diversified export-based economy. The programme focuses mostly on capacitating companies to reach export readiness status.

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Business

Inflation up 2.3 percent in May

21st June 2022
Inflation

Prices for goods and services in this country continue to increase, with the latest figures from Statistics Botswana showing that in May 2022, inflation rate rose to 11.9 percent from 9.6 percent recorded in April 2022.

According to Statistics Botswana update released this week, the largest upward contributions to the annual inflation rate in May 2022 came from increase in the cost of transport (7.2 percent), housing, water, electricity, gas & other Fuels (1.4 percent), food & non-alcoholic beverages (1.1 percent) and miscellaneous goods & services (0.8 percent).

With regard to regional inflation rates between April and May 2022, the Rural Villages inflation rate went up by 2.5 percentage points, from 9.6 percent in April to 12.1 percent in May 2022, according to the government owned statistics entity.

In the monthly update the entity stated that the Urban Villages inflation rate stood at 11.8 percent in May 2022, a rise of 2.4 percentage points from the April rate of 9.4 percent, whereas the Cities & Towns inflation rate recorded an increase of 1.9 percentage points, from 9.9 percent in April to 11.8 percent in May.

Commenting on the national Consumer Price Index, the entity stated that it went up by 2.6 percent, from 120.1 in April to 123.2 in May 2022. Statisticians from the entity noted that the transport group index registered an increase of 7.3 percent, from 134.5 in April to 144.2 in May, mainly due to the rise in retail pump prices for petrol and diesel by P1.54 and P2.74 per litre respectively, which effected on the 13th of May 2022.

The food & non-alcoholic beverages group index rose by 2.6 percent, from 118.6 in April 2022 to 121.6 in May 2022 and this came as a result of increase in prices of oils & fats, vegetables, bread & cereal, mineral waters, soft drinks, fruits & vegetables juices, fish (Fresh, Chilled & Frozen) and meat (Fresh, Chilled & Frozen), according to the Statisticians.

The Statisticians said the furnishing, household equipment & routine maintenance group index rose by 1.0 percent, from 111.6 in April 2022 to 112.7 in May 2022 and this was attributed to a general increase in prices of household appliances, glassware, tableware & household utensils and goods & services for household maintenance.

The prices for clothing & footwear group index moved from 109.4 to 110.4, registering a rise of 0.9 percent during the period under review. Bank of Botswana has projected higher inflation in the short term, associated with the likelihood of further increases in domestic fuel prices in response to persistent high international oil prices and added that the possible increase in public service salaries could add also upward pressure to inflation in this country.

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Global high inflation, slow growth bad news for Botswana

21st June 2022
World Bank President: David Malpass

In the latest June 2022 global economic prospects, released last week the World Bank has warned that low global economic growth and economic activity in global commodity markets such as China and Europe could negatively affect export revenues for Botswana and other Sub Saharan countries.

Recent data from Statistics Botswana show that Botswana’s exports destined to the global markets such as Asia and the European Union (EU) on monthly basis accounts for around 60.1 percent and 20.1 percent respectively.

The World Bank last week lowered its 2022 projections of global economic growth and indicated that the new forecasts could be bad news for countries like Botswana who are dependent on export mineral revenues. The Bank noted that just over two years after COVID-19 caused the deepest global recession since World War II, the world economy is again in danger and stated that this time it is facing high inflation and slow growth at the same time.

In the recent June projections, the bank lowered its forecast of global economic growth from the January 4.1 percent to 2.1 percent. “Our June forecasts reflect a sizable downgrade to the outlook: global growth is expected to slow sharply from 5.7 percent in 2021 to 2.9 percent this year. This also reflects a nearly one-third cut to our January 2022 forecast for this year of 4.1 percent,” a team of World Bank economists noted in the June 2022 Global Economic Prospects.

The World Bank indicated that exports from Botswana and other Sub Saharan countries could suffer from a substantial deceleration of activity in China and Europe. The Bank noted that exporters of industrial metals, crude oil, and ores such as Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, South Africa, and Zambia could suffer from a substantial deceleration of activity in China.

On the other hand a sharp contraction of growth in the euro area could hurt exporters of agricultural products such as beef, coffee, tea, tobacco, cotton, and textiles from Botswana, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Malawi. “The faster-than-expected deceleration of the global economy and increased volatility of commodity prices could hurt many SSA commodity exporters,” said World Bank President David Malpass.

Malpass indicated that subdued growth in the global markets for Botswana and other Sub Saharan exports will likely persist throughout the decade because of weak investment in most of the world.

He noted that with inflation now running at multi-decade highs in many countries and supply expected to grow slowly, inflation could remain higher for longer than currently anticipated. “Even if a global recession is averted, the pain of stagflation could persist for several years— unless major supply increases are set in motion. Amid the war in Ukraine, surging inflation, and rising interest rates, global economic growth is expected to slump in 2022. Several years of above-average inflation and below-average growth are now likely,” said Malpass.

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