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Recent wage increase won’t overheat inflation – BoB

While acknowledging that the recent salary increment by government which was done for the 2019/20 financial year will lead to credit grown and increase in domestic demand, Bank of Botswana governor Moses Pelaelo said this will not overheat inflation beyond the objective range of 3 – 6 percent in the medium term.

The governor said this when delivering the Monetary Policy Statement of 2019 released this week. Pelaelo said despite expected spending in school fees which happens normally in the beginning of the year, inflation will not go overboard. He emphasized that people will take loans or credit will increase in banks, but that will not move inflation beyond its position which is a range of 3 – 6 percent. This is also despite the drought which is being experienced by the region and covers Botswana and its food import partners. Food prices may go up, but BoB does not see any sign of inflation overheating above range.

When making economic prospects for 2019 BoB said both external and domestic pressures on inflation are expected to be benign, and it is projected that inflation will remain within the 3 – 6 percent objective range in the short to medium term. “This forecast incorporates the estimated impact of the increase in public service salaries and prospects for continued accommodative monetary conditions.

Having said that, it is worth underscoring the point that any upward adjustment in administered prices and government levies and/or taxes and any increase in international commodity prices that is substantially beyond current projections present upside risks to the inflation outlook.”  In contrast, downside risks to inflation arise from the restrained growth in global economic activity, the tendency of the ongoing technological progress to lower costs and the reduction in commodity prices,” said Pelaelo.

The 10 percent-6 percent recent increase in wages by government is expected to gobble close to P2 billion from government’s purse in a period of two financial years being 2019/20 and 2020/21. Economists believe the increase will help cushion purchase power to some point as they will be increase in personal incomes which will lead to credit growth in households hence increase in economic activity.

The BoB Monetary Policy Statement of 2019 released this week suggests that the domestic economy woke from a hangover of “subdued domestic demand pressures, as a result of the restrained growth in personal incomes and largely stable foreign inflation” of 2018. According to the Bank’s Monetary Policy Statement, last year was the year of restrained growth in the personal incomes as the nominal national increased only by a paltry 3 percent on average which was below the average inflation rate for the period resulting in erosion of purchasing power.

However, according to BoB governor Moses Pelaelo, the Bank did not lose monetary policy control as it maintained price stability with inflation remaining within the objective range of 3 – 6 percent in the medium term. According to the Bank, Inflation fell from 3.8 percent in November to 3.5 percent in December 2018.

“This favourable medium-term outlook for inflation is in the context of moderate growth in economic activity and a sound and stable financial system. Therefore, prospective developments augur well for maintenance of an accommodative monetary policy that supports productive lending to businesses and to households, for welfare enhancements that also drive 17 economic activities.

The Bank’s implementation of monetary policy will continue to focus on entrenching expectations of low, predictable and sustainable inflation, through timely responses to price developments; while at the same time, taking due care to ensure that policy decisions are consistent with ensuring financial stability and supportive of sustainable economic growth and employment creation,” said Pelaelo this week.

When looking back domestic output is estimated to have expanded by 5.1 percent in the twelve months to September 2018, compared to lower growth of 2.4 percent in the year to September 2017 and his expansion was mainly driven by sustained improvement in non-mining GDP growth and the recovery in mining output.

According to the Bank, inflation was low and stable, and fluctuated around the lower end of the objective range of 3 – 6 percent for most of 2018; and the outcome was broadly consistent with projections for the year. The BoB governor said the low rate of annual price increase was mostly due to the decrease in food inflation. Food price inflation decreased from 1.1 percent in 2017 to a negative 0.2 percent in 2018, however fuel prices increased significantly by 16.1 percent during 2018, due to upward adjustments in May, October and November. 

“This compares to a relatively smaller increase of 9.5 percent in 2017. Overall, the increase in administered prices (including fuel prices, public transport fares, as well as 10 electricity tariffs) added 1.86 percentage points to inflation in 2018,” said Pelaelo. Pelaelo said the overall modest increase in prices in Botswana was in the context of subdued domestic demand pressures, as a result of the restrained growth in personal incomes and largely stable foreign inflation. According to the governor monetary policy was therefore conducted against the background of below-trend economic activity and a positive medium-term outlook for inflation and moderate fiscal expansion.

Government expenditure grew by 6.6 percent in 2018 compared to a contraction of 6.3 percent in the prior year. It should be recognized, in this respect, that beyond the increase in wages, the short-term impact of government spending on domestic demand is moderated to the extent that a significant component involves infrastructure and capacity development. “In the context of Botswana, this type of spending tends to be import intensive and the economic benefits of such public investments are derived in the medium to long term,” said Pelaelo.

Regarding wage developments, it is notable that government recurrent expenditure included a 3 percent salary increase with effect from April 1, 2018. Government increased salaries last year 1 April 2018 by 3 percent and BoB there was nominal national wages increased only by 2.3 percent- which was below the average inflation rate for the period-a development that suggest a modest impact on domestic demand and inflation.

According to last year’s statistics commercial bank credit accelerated from 5.6 percent in 2017 to 7.7 percent in 2018 and included a faster increase in lending to businesses, from 3.2 percent in 2017 to 10 percent in 2018.  However for households, annual credit expansion fell from 7.2 percent in 2017 to 6.2 percent in 2018 and this is attributed to restrained growth in personal incomes as the last year 3 percent salary increment did not raise the bar any further.

In the households, this included a 7 percent increase in personal loans and 4.9 percent for mortgages, compared to respective growth rates of 9.2 percent and 4.8 percent in 2017.  However Pelaelo said when looking at the monetary issue in a broad picture, the rate of credit growth continued to be supportive of economic activity, with minimal risk to financial stability.

The Global economy and the trade war

The domestic economy is forecast to grow by 4.2 percent in 2019, slightly lower than the estimate of 4.5 percent for 2018. According to BoB, the main factors expected to support growth in economic activity include conducive financing conditions associated with an accommodative monetary policy stance and a sound financial environment.

Therefore the budgeted 3.6 percent expansion in government spending in 2019/20 and the implementation of initiatives such as the doing business reforms, are expected to further support growth in economic activity and employment creation according to the Bank.
According to BoB the global economy on the other hand is expected to grow by 3.5 percent in 2019, lower than estimated expansion of 3.7 percent in 2018. The Bank says the projected lower growth is premised on anticipated slower expansion in advanced economies, mostly reflecting subdued performance in the euro area.

The US GDP growth is forecast to decline from 2.9 percent in 2018 to 2.5 percent in 2019, as the impact of the fiscal stimulus dissipates while growth in emerging market and developing economies is projected at 4.5 percent in 2019, slightly lower than the 4.6 percent in 2018.
According to the Bank the risks to the global economic activity are skewed to the downside, with prospects for escalation of trade tensions (trade war), tightening financial conditions, a no-deal Brexit and relatively weaker growth in China presenting key risks to the outlook.

“Global inflationary pressures are forecast to be modest in the short to medium term, reflecting below-potential output. In this environment, it is anticipated that monetary policy will remain accommodative in most economies, complemented by measures aimed at facilitating financial intermediation, while fostering resilience of the financial sector, to support growth in economic activity.

It is, therefore, notable, that the earlier anticipated monetary policy normalization (or increase of interest rates) in the advanced countries is being re-assessed and restrained with the advent of generalized weaker economic performance and heightened policy uncertainty,” said Bank of Botswana in its recent Monetary Policy Statement.

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Business

Pula smiles at COVID-19 vaccine

25th November 2020
COVID-19 vaccine

A squeaky and glittering metaphoric smile was the look reflected from the Pula against the greenback this week and money market researchers lean this on optimism following Monday’s announcement of another Covid-19 vaccine which is said to have boosted emerging market economies.

With other emerging market currencies, the Pula too reacted to optimism and fanfare on the new Covid-19 vaccine against the weakening US dollar which has been losing its shine since the uncertainty laden US elections.

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Choppies high on JSE rollercoaster volatility

25th November 2020
CHOPPIES

After bouncing back into the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) last week Friday, following a year of being in the freezer, the Choppies stock started this week with much fluidity.

Choppies was suspended in both the Botswana Stock Exchange and its secondary listing at the JSE for failure to publish financial results. Choppies suspension on Botswana Stock Exchange was lifted on 27 July 2020. On Friday last week, when suspension was being lifted, Choppies explained that this came into fruition “following extensive engagement with the JSE.”

Choppies stock, prior to suspension, hit a mammoth decline in value of more than 60 percent, especially in September 2018. Waking from a 24 month freezer, last week the Choppies share price was at R0.64 and the stock did not make any movement.

However, Monday was the day when Choppies stock moved vibrantly, albeit volatile. Choppies’ value was on a high volatile mood on Monday, reaching highs of 200 percent. At noon, the same Monday, the Choppies share had reached R1.05. Before taking an uphill movement, Choppies stock slightly slipped by 2 cents. But the Choppies share rode up high and by lunch time the stock had reached the day’s summit of R2.00 and that was at 13:30 when investors were buying the stock for lunch.

The same eventful Monday saw gloom on the faces of Choppies rivals, when Choppies gained by 220.31 percent around lunch time its rivals in the JSE Food & Drug Retailers sector were licking wounds. Spar lost 2.94 percent, Pick Pay fell by 2.43 percent, Shoprite 7.52 percent and Dis-Chem 1.98 percent. The only gainer was Clicks by a paltry 0.51 percent.

In an interview with BusinessPost, Choppies sponsors at the JSE PSG Capital Managing Director Johan Holtzhausen explained that the retailer’s stock was in high demand after a long suspension. He said when a company list or a suspension is lifted the market needs to find itself on the pricing of the share.

“Initially when the suspension was lifted there were more buyers than sellers. As far as we could see this created a shortage of shares so to speak and resulted in the price at which the shares traded going to R1.20 and eventually R2.05 before finding its level around R0.80 sent from a JSE perspective.

This is marked dynamics and reflect that there are investors that are positive about the stock in the long run. This is a snapshot over a short period and one requires a longer period to draw further conclusions,” said Holtzhausen in an interview talking about the Choppies stock.

On Monday this week where the Choppies value grew by 200 percent, the stock took a turn looking down, closing the day at R0.87 from a high of R2.00. According to local stockbroker Motswedi Securities on Monday while there was no movement by Choppies in the local stock exchange as the retailer appeared on the board as 141,000 shares traded at P0.60 each.

However in Choppies’ secondary listing the stock price rallied to over 200 percent during intraday trading on Monday before losing steam and declining to around R0.87 share.

Before press yesterday Choppies opened the market with the stock starting the day at R0.80 then went flat for few hours before taking a slide downward, dropping 5 cents in 30 minutes. Choppies then went flat at R0.75 for 50 minutes yesterday before going up at 10:20 am where it nearly recovered the open day price of 80 cents, but was shy of 1 cent. From 79 cents the price went flat until noon.

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Foschini-Jet merger, a class and rivalry conundrum dissection

25th November 2020
Foschini

Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) has revealed that in its assessment of the Jet take over by Foschini, there were considerations on possible market rivalry and a clash in targeted classes.

According to a merger decision notice seen by this publication this week, high considerations were made to ensure that Foschini’s takeover of Jet is not anyhow an elimination of rivalry or competition or if the two entities; the targeted and the acquiring enterprise serves the same class of customers or offer the same products, to elude the anti-trust issues or a stretch of monopoly.

The two entities are South African retailers whose services stretched to Botswana shores.  Last month local anti-trust body, CCA, received an acquisition proposal from South African clothing retailer, Foschini, stating their intentions to take-over Jet.

South African government’s Business Rescue Practitioners earlier this year after finding out that Jet’s mother company, Edcon, is falling apart, made a decision that Foschini can buy Jet for R480 million. This means that Foschini will add Jet to its portfolio of 30 retail brands that trade in clothing, footwear, jewellery, sportswear, homeware, cell phones, and technology products from value to upper market segments throughout more than 4085 outlets in 32 countries on five continents.

However the main headache for the CCA decision which was released this week, is distinguishing the targeted and the acquiring entity businesses and services.

When doing a ‘Competitive Analysis and Public Interest’ assessment, CCA is said to have discovered that Foschini is classified as a “standard retailer” which targets middle-to-upper income consumers and it competes with stores such as; Truworths and Woolworths. The targeted entity, Jet, is on the lower league when compared to its acquirer, it serves customers of lower classes and is regarded as a discount/value retailer targeting lower income consumers or a mass market. This makes Jet to be in direct competition with Ackermans, Pepkor, Cash Bazaar and Mr Price.

“Therefore, a narrower view of the market is that Foschini through its stores trading in Botswana is not a close competitor to Jet. Additionally, there exist other major rivals who will continue to exercise competitive constraints on the merged enterprise post-merger,” concluded CCA this month.

The anti-trust body continued to explain that in terms of the Acquisition of a Dominant Position, the analysis shows that the acquisition of the target business by Foschini Botswana will result in an insignificant combined market share in the relevant market.

This made CCA reach to a conclusion that there is no case of an acquisition of a dominant position in the market under consideration or any other market on the account of the proposed transaction.

What supports the merger according to CCA is that it is in compliance with regards to ‘Public Interest Considerations’ because the findings of the assessment revealed that the transaction is as a result of the need for a Business Rescue by the target enterprise. This is so because in the event that the proposed transaction fails, it will translate into the loss of the employment positions at the target business.

“On that note the Authority (CCA) found it necessary to ensure that the proposed merger does not result in any retrenchments or redundancies. In light of this, the assessment revealed the critical need to protect the employees of the merged entity from possible merger specific retrenchments/ redundancies,” said CCA.

Before making a determination that the recently proposed transaction is not likely to result in the prevention or substantial lessening of competition or endanger the continuity of the services offered in the relevant market, CCA said it then moved into a concern for public interest which is a protection enshrined in the Competition Act of 2018.

CCA’s concern was mostly loss of livelihood or employment by 126 Batswana workers at Jet stores, stating that possible retrenchments or redundancies may arise as a result of implementation of the proposed merger.

Much to the desire of trade union or labour movements in Botswana and across Southern Africa where the Jet stores are stemmed-who also raised concerns about the retail’s workers job security- CCA subjects Foschini to keep the target entity 126 workers.

“There shall be no merger specific retrenchments or redundancies that may affect the employees of the merged enterprises. For clarity, merger specific retrenchments or redundancies do not include (the list is not exhaustive): i. voluntary retrenchment and/or voluntary separation arrangements; ii. Voluntary early retirement packages; iii. Unreasonable refusals to be redeployed; iv. Resignations or retirements in the ordinary course of business; v. retrenchments lawfully effected for operational requirements unrelated to the Merger; and vi. Terminations in the ordinary course of business, including but not limited to, dismissals as a result of misconduct or poor performance,” said CCA.

CCA also orders that Foschini informs it about all the details of 126 Jet employees within thirty (30) days of the merger approval date. CCA should also know information of when Foschini is implementing the merger, within 30 days of the approval date.

Other conditions include Foschini sharing a copy of the conditions of approval to all employees of the Jet or their respective representatives within ten (10) days of the approval date.

“Should vacancies arise in the target, the merged enterprise shall consider previous employment at one of the non-transferring Jet stores to be a positive factor to be taken into account in the consideration of offering potential employment,” said CCA.

According to CCA, in cases of any job losses, for the Authority to assess whether the retrenchments or redundancies are merger specific, at least three months before (to the extent that this deadline can be practically achieved and in terms of the prevailing and legally required employment practices) any retrenchments or redundancies are to take place, inform the Authority of:  i. The intended retrenchments; ii. The reasons for the retrenchments; iii. The number and categories of employees affected; iv. The expected date of the retrenchments.

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