The macroeconomic outlook remains positive onto 2019 underpinned by the anticipation of sustained growth in the mining sector, particularly diamonds, as the global economic recovery ensues. At the same time, the non-mining sector is expected to drive growth, largely from the services sectors. The projected accommodative monetary conditions, expansionary fiscal policy, stable water and electricity supply, should all serve to add impetus to economic growth.
The country is set to go to the polls this year with the general elections marked for October. Notwithstanding increased factionalism within the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) we anticipate the party will retain power come elections. The new political administration’s approval of key legislation aimed at improving the business environment could serve to attract much needed Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Botswana.
The Bank of Botswana September 2018 Business Expectations Survey also highlights the positive prospects of 2019. Businesses have indicated positive expectations about 2019 business conditions, which they expect to improve further, with the main drivers being increased demand for consumer products and sustained growth in global demand for mining output.
Over the surveys of recent years, constrained domestic demand has consistently been cited as one of the biggest challenges facing businesses. It is particularly encouraging to note that increased demand for consumer products is now expected to be a key driver of growth. Furthermore, firms expect wages to increase in the first half of 2019, likely premised on the anticipated public service salary increment.
From a global viewpoint, the year has begun with much uncertainty. Key events, including Brexit, the US-China trade war, China’s economic slowdown and the Italy debt crisis, will likely result in investors shying away from equities and parking their money in safe haven assets. The outcome of these events will be pivotal in determining the direction equity markets will take and could influence whether liquidity from foreign investors will return to our local stock market. However, considering the positive domestic macroeconomic outlook, improved fundamentals and attractive valuations on the DCI, investors should see our local stock market as a good buying opportunity.
The Banking Sector
The performance of the banking sector is largely tied to the health of the economy. With ensuing growth anticipated for 2019, demand for credit should remain strong. 2018 saw a recovery in credit growth from the lows seen in 2017 in line with improved economic performance. We anticipate 2019 will be another year of solid credit growth, with businesses acting as the primary driver.
The aforementioned Business Expectations Survey indicates local firms expect a rise in domestic borrowing this year. Meanwhile, consumers are currently under pressure from constrained disposable incomes and there is the general perception of household debt being at high levels. However, the anticipated increase in wages should serve to provide some relief to households and increase their borrowing capacity, albeit to a limited extent.
With the economy only recently beginning to pick up steam and the subdued inflationary environment, we expect the Central Bank will maintain an accommodative monetary policy stance throughout the year. We therefore see the bank rate maintained at 5% in 2019. The monetary policy environment substantiates our expectations of decent credit growth.
Non-interest income growth remains a key focus for the banks. Increased development and enhancement of digital banking channels are driving transactional income growth, with self-service banking increasingly being utilized by customers due to its convenience of 24 hour access and mobility. On the brick and mortar front, banks appear to be adopting a model of leaner branches, with increased self-service access points.
FNBB, the largest bank and market leader in innovation, is well poised to continue driving solid non-interest income growth underpinned by aggressive rollout of digital platforms and initiatives aimed at increasing penetration of clients’ use of the bank’s products. FNBB has targeted particular business sectors for credit extension, while it intends to lend cautiously to households.
Barclays is set to experience a change in leadership with Managing Director, Reinette Van Der Merwe’s tenor coming to an end in the current financial year. The bank’s strategy of growing its fee income will result in ensuing investment in digital solutions in line with increased use of these channels by its clients. Barclays has made it clear it intends to grow its advances market share, with a strong focus on growing its book via client penetration and acquisition. The cost impact of the separation from Barclays PLC however, does bring some uncertainty.
Following the de-risking of its balance sheet, Stanchart should be positioned to drive growth that doesn’t compromise on asset quality. Given its elevated cost/income ratio of 95% as at June 2018, the bank finds itself under immense pressure to bring this metric down and grow its income lines. Newly listed BancABC will largely be focused on the rollout of new and enhanced product offerings and extensive marketing to drive its envisioned transactional banking proposition. The bank significantly lags its more established peers with regards to non-interest income contribution, currently at 16.4% of total income. This indicates the scope that ABC has to grow and diversify its revenue streams.
The Financial Services Sector
Blue chip financial services giant BIHL is set to launch a new strategy this year following the end of its 5 year twin strategy of growth and profitability in 2018. The group’s segmentation approach under the life business has made good in-roads and we believe this will remain a key part of the new strategy with innovation likely to play an ever increasing important role amidst the competitive environment. We anticipate that the affluent segment will continue to be a key driver of growth in value of new business given its low penetration and higher average size premiums.
Asset management arm, BIFM, faces an increasingly challenging landscape. Ex-BPOPF pension funds have followed suit in adopting the measure of splitting mandates amongst asset managers. This development makes it more difficult to grow assets under management. Further, the entry of new asset managers will over time intensify competition for assets as these firms build track records and acquire mandates. On a group level, business development initiatives aimed at marketing BIHL as a “one stop financial services shop” should serve to further harness synergies between the underlying subsidiaries and associate businesses.
Letshego’s broad geographical footprint across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the group well positioned to scale its operations further. According to IMF statistics, GDP growth for SSA is expected to improve to 3.5% (2018: 2.9%) and 3.6% in 2020. Letshego appointed Smit Crouse as the new group Managing Director late in Q3 2018. Mr. Crouse has extensive experience in finance, commerce, and law, including advising on and managing African banking investments.
Access is the focal point for the firm in driving its strategic agenda of becoming the continent’s leading inclusive finance group. Letshego’s agency network, mobile digital banking solutions, strategic partnerships, new products and cross selling initiatives have substantially increased access and driven customer acquisition. We expect the continued rollout and promotion of these initiatives to drive further growth momentum going forth. With increased diversification into MSE lending, Letshego would do well to monitor the composition of its loan book in order to simultaneously drive growth and keep loan loss rates in check. 5
The Property Sector
The listed property companies are increasingly diversifying across our local borders. The Botswana property market has seen varied dynamics. Demand for retail space has been strong and is still rising with further mall developments and expansions having been recently completed and some underway. This sector is enjoying good occupancy rates and escalations. The industrial sector is seeing solid demand, especially in Gaborone. Developments have reportedly been low; however, demand for prime location space is expected to improve further.
The office market’s state of oversupply has put downward pressure on rentals. Considering the number of new developments and ongoing construction (particularly in Gaborone Central Business District) coupled with subdued employment creation, this sector is likely to remain under pressure. The residential sector has seen improved conditions for the low to middle income segment of the market, while the high end remains weak.
NAP, which has bucked the trend of diversification with an unchanged property portfolio, has nonetheless been a consistently solid performer. The retail property giant should see sustained top line growth from escalations. The weak economic conditions in Selebi Phikwe however will likely remain a drag, with the area currently accounting for 43% of vacancies across the portfolio.
The evolved dynamics of the hospitality sector have forced Letlole management to dispose of its hotel portfolio (which contributes 30% to rental revenues and 28% to the consolidated property portfolio) to related party and incumbent tenant Cresta, subject to unitholders approval. The BWP235 million to be raised from the transaction (a 10% discount to book value) is intended to be reinvested in new acquisitions. Given the length of time acquisitions normally take, investors will likely suffer the opportunity cost of the difference in rental yield and return on cash until the proceeds are utilized.
RDCP has been a significant benefactor of regional diversification on the back of its investments in South African based Capitalgro. South Africa is to be of increasing importance to the company as management has emphasized the number of opportunities being evaluated by Capitalgro. The Xai Xai shopping centre will give RDCP a foothold in Mozambique, while further developments there and in Namibia are still in early stages.
Turnstar has been experiencing prolonged tepid demand, and rightfully so given its challenges in Tanzania. Vacancies at the Mlimani office park have been a major drag on revenues, and pose a significant downside risk to performance. Locally, the expanded area of Gamecity is now largely occupied and should boost retail revenues.
Primetime’s regional and sectoral diversification has been bearing fruit. Three retail developments, Chirundu mall and Munali Mall (Zambia), and Design Quarter (Botswana) were completed late in the previous fiscal year. The revenue impact from these developments will largely be reflected in the current financial year, with management focusing on tenancies in Chirundu and Munali. A further 1,100 sqm extension of Pilane Crossing is currently underway, scheduled for completion in Q2 2019.
Brewery behemoth, Sechaba, has been under the torment of a harsh regulatory environment which saw its profitability decline over the years. The company’s fate has taken a turn for the better with the new political administration’s decision to reduce the alcohol levy from 50/55% to 35% late in 2018, a development which we expect will prove earnings accretive for the beverages giant. A further regulatory change was the extension of liquor trading hours, which should be positive for Sechaba’s volumes.
Shareholders approved of the related party transaction between Sechaba and AB InBev Africa BV which resulted in Sechaba shareholders (excluding AB InBev Africa BV) effectively retaining their financial interest in the sparkling soft drinks business. This segment accounts for roughly 30% of volumes and is thus a paramount part of the business. However, it remains to be seen what the implications of the restructuring of KBL will be following this transaction.
Ecotourism counters Chobe and Wilderness delivered excellent numbers for their interim reporting periods, which include peak season. This should translate to a solid full year performance for their respective reporting periods ended February 2019. The outlook for the Southern African tourism industry is robust and is anticipated to remain so over the medium term.
Locally, the government’s recent policy decision to simplify VISA applications is anticipated to expedite turnaround times and potentially result in increased tourist arrivals into Botswana, particularly from the Far East. We do have some reservations on the sector however, considering the uncertainty around several global events which could dampen consumer confidence in some key markets. The IMF has projected that global output will slow to 3.5% (2018: 3.7%). Risks to this outlook are largely tilted to the downside which could result in an even sharper slowdown in growth if outcomes to several events prove unfavorable.
The Retail Sector
With Choppies yet to release results and Sefalana being the only other listed counter in the retail sector, we have limited indication of developments in this space. Following a period of continued pressures on its local FMCG margins, Sefalana has posted positive performance under its Sefalana Cash and Carry Botswana unit. The improved performance has been attributed to a gradual uptick in consumer spending and confidence. Given the optimism amongst businesses with regard to consumer product demand going forth, we are cautiously optimistic that these improved dynamics will ensue.
Sefalana’s focus going forth will largely be on its core FMCG and supporting businesses. The group plans to open 3 further stores in Botswana this year and to continue its efforts to provide its customer base with a wider product and service offering. The group is also looking to expand its manufacturing business into bottled water and fruit juice manufacturing over the next 12 – 18 months.
The high level of dependence on government tenders remains a key risk for the manufacturing arm, as well as for the smaller Commercial Motors subsidiary. There is however, a general anticipation of a boost in government spending over this election year, which could act as a boon for these segments.
Choppies remains in limbo, yet to release its full year financial results, while its Dec interim results are due for release soon as well. Amidst this debacle, the group appointed a new Finance Director, Heinrich Mathiam Stander effective 15 December 2018. Shareholders recently found some relief following Choppies statement announcing that the Zimbabwe litigation issue has been resolved. The Mphokos, former minority shareholders, have disinvested from the subsidiary and have no further interests in Choppies. Given this was a legal matter; it is likely it was the largest impeding factor with regards to release of Choppies financials.
As the largest retailer in Botswana, Choppies is well positioned to benefit from a recovery in consumer spending. Meanwhile, the civil unrest in neighboring Zimbabwe has exacerbated the difficulties of conducting business, the country battling with foreign exchange shortages and exorbitant inflationary pressures. For now, the market waits with angst for release of the group’s financials to get an indication of the current standings of the business and management’s outlook. (Adopted from SBB Market Outlook for 2019)
This century is always looking at improving new super high speed technology to make life easier. On the other hand, beckoning as an emerging fierce reversal force to equally match or dominate this life enhancing super new tech, comes swift human adversaries which seem to have come to make living on earth even more difficult.
The recent discovery of a pandemic, Covid-19, which moves at a pace of unimaginable and unpredictable proportions; locking people inside homes and barring human interactions with its dreaded death threat, is currently being felt.
Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”