Domestic Monetary Policy withstands volatile 2019
Economic experts and think tanks alike depicts the election year of 2019 as a year of uncertainty and volatility, but it is still waters for the central bank whose bank rate remains unchanged while forecasted inflation remains within objective range.
On Thursday this week the Bank of Botswana (BoB) decided to maintain the Bank rate at 5 percent, this has been the rate since it was slashed to the current level October 2017. While the Bank Rate remained in the same level since more than a year inflation ranges below the lower bound of the Bank’s objective range of 3-6 percent in April and May 2019.
According to the Bank an increase in public transport fares and electricity tariffs in the second quarter of 2018 inherited the lower inflation of this year’s second quarter-this reflected base effects, which means the higher prices of last year’s second quarter would mirror 2019 lower prices of this quarter. When updating the media this week on the Monetary Policy Committee decision and economic outlook, BoB Governor Moses Pelaelo said subdued domestic demand pressures and the modest increase in foreign prices contribute to the positive inflation outlook in the medium term.
He explained that this outlook is subject to upside risks emanating from the potential rise in administered prices and government levies and/or taxes, beyond current forecasts. Modest growth in global economic activity, technological progress and productivity improvement present risks to the outlook.
Pelaelo painted a rosy picture of the country’s finance environment which he said it is “conducive, sound and ideal” for businesses. As the Bank Rate remains maintained at 5 percent for over a year the interest rates are also low paving a way for a conducive business environment, said the governor. The Bank is now synonymous with price stability and so is the exchange rate according to Pelaelo. This, said Pelaelo, should enable a conducive environment for business hence facilitating growth.
“The significant influences on domestic economic performance include conducive financing environment that facilitate policy transmission, intermediation and risk mitigation,” Pelaelo told the media this week. While many expected the negatives to come with the recent increment in salaries and major spending in infrastructure projects the BoB governor sits on the positive saying the expenditure will be supportive to economic activity. So is the implementation of government initiatives and the Doing Business reforms, said Pelaelo, which are expected to boost economic activity hence brighter 2019.
“The latest Business Expectation Survey indicate that businesses are optimistic about economic developments in 2019 and expect a higher rate of growth compared to 2018. Overall, the economy is projected to operate close to, but below full capacity in the short to medium term, thus posing no upside risk to the inflation outlook,” said Pelaelo.
While the domestic economy is not facing any major internal shock Pelaelo touched external factors which might burst Botswana’s bubble in the long run. Global output growth is expected to be moderate, easing to 3.3 percent in 2019, form an estimated expansion of 3.6 percent in 2018. According to the governor, the moderation in global growth was due to various factors including inter-alia: trade and geopolitical tensions which have the possibility to hamper confidence, investment and growth.
“Continuing policy uncertainty; possible slower growth in China; a “no deal’ Brexit; tightening financial conditions and high debt levels,’ said Pelaelo. Regionally the South African Reserve Bank, the central bank of a country Botswana is economically independent to, revised the forecast for GDP growth for 2019 downwards to 1 percent from 1.3 percent. According to BoB, this results from the larger than expected slowdown in the first quarter which is attributable to weak business and consumer confidence.
Pelaelo concluded by saying the current state of the economy and the outlook for both domestic and external economic activity suggest that the prevailing monetary policy stance is consistent with inflation reverting to within the objective range of 3-6 percent in the medium term, hence the Bank deciding to retain the Bank Rate at 5 percent. The remaining MPC meetings for 2019 are scheduled as follows: 29 August 2019, 31 October 2019 and 5 December 2019
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Grit divests from Letlole La Rona
Grit Services Limited, a member of the pan African real estate group, London Stock Exchange listed Grit Real Estate Income Group is divesting from Letlole La Rona Limited (LLR), a local real estate company established by government investment arm Botswana Development Corporation over a decade ago.
The Board of Directors of Letlole La Rona Limited this week announced in a statement to Unitholders that Grit Services Limited (‘Grit’) has informed them of its intention to exit its investment in the company.
Grit has been a material shareholder in LLR since 2019. On 07 March 2023, Grit sold 6 421 000 linked units, representing 2.29% of the Company’s total securities in issue, at a market value of BWP 22 537 710.
This trade follows previous sales of 6.79% in December 2022, as communicated to Unitholders on 10 January 2023, as well as a further sale of 4.78% (representing 13 347 068 linked units) on 24 February 2023 to various shareholders.
In aggregate, Grit has sold 13.9% shareholding in the Letlole La Rona between December 2022 and March 2023, resulting in current shareholding of 11.25% in the Company.
Letlole La Rona said in the statement that the exit process will take place in an orderly manner so as to maintain stability of the Company’s share price.
The statement explained that Grit’s sale of its entire shareholding in LLR is in line with its decision to exit investments where it does not have majority control, or where it has significant exposure to currencies other than US dollar, Euro or hard-currency-pegged revenue streams.
“Grit has announced similar decisions pertaining to certain of its hospitality assets in Mauritius recently. The Company would like to advise Unitholders that it remains focused on long-term value delivery to all stakeholders” LLR said
In July last year as part of their Go-to-Africa strategy Letlole La Rona acquired an initial 30% equity stake in Orbit Africa Logistics, with an option to increase this investment to 50%. OAL is a special purpose vehicle incorporated in Mauritius, owning an industrial asset in a prime industrial node in Nairobi, Kenya.
The co-investment was done alongside a wholly owned subsidiary of London listed Grit. The Orbit facility is situated on a prime industrial site on Mombasa Road, the principal route south of Nairobi center, serving the main industrial node, the port of Mombasa and the industrial town of Athi River and is strategically located 11 kilometers south of the international airport and 9.6 kilometers from the Inland Container Depot.
Grit shareholding in Letlole La Rona was seen as strategic for LLR, for the company to leverage on Grit’s already existing continental presence and expand its wings beyond Botswana borders as already delivered by Kenya transaction.
Media reports have however suggested that LLR and Grit have since late last year had fundamental disagreements on how to go about the Go-to-Africa strategy amongst other things, fuelled by alleged Botswana government interference on the affairs of LLR.
Government through LLR founding shareholder – Botswana Development Corporation has a controlling stake of around 40 percent in the company. Government is the sole shareholder of Botswana Development Corporation.
Letlole La Rona recently released their financial results for the six months ended December 2022, revenue increased by 4% to P50.2 million from P48.4 million in the prior comparative six months, whilst operating profit was up 8% to P36.5 million. Profit before tax of P49.7 million was reported, an increase of 8% on the prior comparative six months.
“We are encouraged by the strong results, notwithstanding a challenging economic environment. Our performance was mainly underpinned by annual lease escalations, our quality tenant base and below average market vacancy levels, especially in our warehouse portfolio,” Kamogelo Mowaneng, Letlole La Rona Chief Executive Officer commented.
LLR reported a weighted average lease expiry period of 3.3 years and escalation rates averaging 6.8% per annum for the period ended 31 December 2022.Its investment portfolio value increased by 14% year-on-year to close the period at P1.4 billion, mainly driven by the acquisition of a 30% stake in OAL in July 2022.
The Company also recorded a significant increase in other income, predominantly due to foreign exchange gains on the OAL shareholder loan. “We continue to explore pipeline opportunities locally, and regionally in line with our Go-to-Africa strategy and our interest remains on value-accretive investments,” Mowaneng said.
An interim distribution of 9.11 thebe per linked unit was declared on the 6th of February 2023 for the half-year period to 31 December 2022, comprising of a dividend of 0.05 thebe and debenture interest of 9.06 thebe per linked unit which will be paid to linked unit holders registered in the books of the Company at the close of business on 24 February 2023.
Stargems Group establishes Training Center in BW
Internationally-acclaimed diamond manufacturing company StarGems Group has established the Stargems Diamond Training Center which will be providing specialized training in diamond manufacturing and evaluation.
The Stargems Diamond Training Institute is located at the Stargems Group Botswana Unit in Gaborone.
“In accordance with the National Human Resource Development Strategy (NHRDS) which holds the principle that through education and skills development as well as the strategic alignment between national ambitions and individual capabilities, Botswana will become a prosperous, productive and innovative nation due to the quality and efficacy of its citizenry. The Training Centre will provide a range of modules in theory and in practice; from rough diamond evaluation to diamond grading and polishing for Batswana, at no cost for eight weeks. The internationally- recognized certificate offered in partnership with Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Training School presents invaluable opportunities for Batswana to access in the diamond industry locally and internationally. The initiative is an extension of our Corporate Social Investment to the community in which we operate,” said Vishal Shah, Stargems Group Managing Director, during the launch of the Stargems Diamond Training Center.
In order to participate in this rare opportunity, interested candidates are invited to submit a police clearance certificate and a BGCSE certificate only to the Stargems offices. Students who excel in these programs will have the chance to be onboarded by the Stargems Group. This serves as motivation for them to go through this training with a high level of seriousness.
“Community empowerment is one of our CSR principles. We believe that businesses can only thrive when their communities are well taken of. We are hoping that our presence will be impactful to various communities and economies. In the six countries that we are operating in, we have contributed through dedicating 10% of our revenues during COVID-19 to facilitate education, donating to hospitals and also to NGOs committed to supporting women and children living with HIV. One key issue that we are targeting in Botswana is the rate of unemployment amongst the youth. We are looking forward to working closely with the government and other relevant authorities to curb unemployment,” said Shah.
Currently, Stargems Group has employed 117 Batswana and they are looking forward to growing the numbers to 500 as the company grows. Majority of the employees will be graduates from the Stargems Diamond Training Center. This initiation has been received with open arms by the general public and stakeholders. During the launch, the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Honorable Lefoko Moagi, stated that the ministry fully endorses Stargems Diamond Training and will work closely with the Group to support and grow the initiative.
“As a ministry, we see this as an game changer that is aligned with one of the United Nations’ Six Priority Sustainable Development Goals, which is to Advance Opportunity and Impact for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). What Stargems Group is launching today will have a huge impact on the creation of employment in Botswana. An economy’s productivity rises as the number of educated workers increases as its skilled workmanship increases. It is not a secret that low skills perpetuate poverty and widen the inequality gap, therefore the development of skills has the potential to contribute significantly to structural transformation and economic growth by enhancing employability and helping the country become more competitive. We are grateful to see the emergence of industry players such as Stargems Group who have strived to create such opportunities that mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 on the economy,” said the Minister of Minerals and Energy.
Food import bill slightly declines
The latest figures released by Statistics Botswana this week shows that food import bill for Botswana slightly declined from around P1.1 billion in November 2022 to around P981 million in December during the same year.
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