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CA Rejects Choppies-Payless Application

The Competition Authority has rejected an application for a buying group exemption from Choppies Distribution Centre and Payless Supermarket.

The applicants are enterprises trading in the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and this makes them direct competitors. However, in terms of the Competition Act competitors can apply for an exemption where there are off-setting public benefits that out-weigh the anti-competitive effects of an undertaking they seek to engage in. The thrust of the application was that the envisaged buying group would enable better purchasing power which would translate into lower prices, better quality products and therefore availing benefits to consumers and employees.

Prior to the current application, the applicants had launched a similar application in 2014, which while it was rejected the applicants were given some time to wind up the buying group agreement and for a period of more than three years the buying group has been active. During the life of the buying group exemption (which continues even now) Payless’s performance reportedly improved, stabilized financially and increased its staff complement. It is the contention of the applicants in the current application that if Payless is not granted the buying group exemption it would suffer devastating harm possibly resulting in liquidation.

When fortifying their case in the current application, the parties or the two stores maintain that the buying group arrangement is the main cause of Payless’s improved performance and stability due to the combined leverage of the two stores economies of scale when buying; stabilised cash flow; ability to rebrand and refurbish its stores; and ability to retain employees, but also created an additional 250 more jobs since the last exemption ( when the weaning-off period was granted), increasing its staff complement from 400 to 650. As a consequence Choppies and Payless are now applying for an exemption to run for a three (3) year period.

In considering an exemption application, the Authority is directed by section 32(1) of the Act on the assessment criteria of exemptions, which  provides that, “ Where the Authority finds, on investigation that an agreement other than a horizontal agreement or vertical agreement prohibited by section 25 and section 26 (1) respectively prevents or substantially lessens competition, the Authority may, subject to section 34, grant an exemption from the prohibition if it can be reasonably expected that there will be offsetting benefits for the public directly attributable to the agreement.

Considering this application, the Authority turned out very adverse findings proving a dire case of substantial lessening of competition in the considered market. After a careful Competition Assessment, the Authority established that:

There is no competition between Choppies and Payless, the duo had monthly promotions wherein they had the same goods on promotion at identical or similar prices and the pamphlets were an exact replica of each other. The two stores had alleged that Choppies would not benefit from the arrangement. It however emerged that Choppies was benefiting, particularly given, the quantity of Choppies in house brands found in Payless stores.

Payless did not have any in house brands, but instead sold a variety of Choppies goods in large volumes. Further, the Authority finds that the granting of an exemption to the applicants would be in effect granting the Choppies and Payless the leeway to continue with their price fixing and distortion of competition.

Public Interest
 
The two stores hinged their application around the assertion that the agreement would yield public benefits that would off-set competition concerns. However, on closer examination of the alleged public benefits claims, it is clear that these are not supported by any documentary evidence. The Parties failed to prove that Payless’ financial stability in the last three years was solely based on it being a member of the Buying Group.   

With regard to employment, it is worth noting that initially when the application was made, the two stores claimed that Payless had been able to retain the same number of staff and even increased its staff complement. Upon scrutiny this claim was found to be untrue. Whilst the parties allege that profits have remained low because of some projects Payless had undertaken to revamp its brand, such as refurbishing its stores and rebranding, there are no documents to support these plans and cost thereof. 

Recommendation

The parties have mostly made unsubstantiated allegations in support of their application without any concrete evidence. The application is therefore rejected on the basis that there is no evidence that proves that the agreement has any offsetting benefits for the public directly attributable to it in the form of maintenance of lower prices, higher quality or greater choice for consumers, as provided under section 32(1) (a) of the Act, because Choppies and Payless sell the same goods at similar prices especially during the month-end promotion period;

and further the parties or the two stores have failed to prove that the agreement has any off-   setting benefits in the form of maintenance or promotion of employment in Botswana as stated under section 32(1)(d) of the Act, instead, the information shows that Payless has reduced its employees and the parties tried to mislead and provided false information to the Authority.

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Business

Slight growth in GDP as economy battles return

28th July 2021
Peggy-Serame

Botswana’s economy showed slight growth signs in the first quarter of 2021, following a devastating year in 2020.

During 2020, the entire second quarter was on zero economic activity as the country went on total lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Diamond trade plummeted to record low levels as global travel restrictions halted movement of both goods and people and muted trade.

The end result was a significant decline for the local economy, at an estimated 7 percent contraction, just marginally below the 2008/09 global financial crises.

According to figures released by Statics Botswana this week, the country’s nominal Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of 2021 was P47.739 billion compared to a revised P45.630 billion registered during the previous quarter.

This represents a quarterly increase of 4.6 percent in nominal terms between the two periods.

During the quarter, Public Administration and Defence became the major contributor to GDP by 18.4 percent, followed by Wholesale & Retail by 11.4 percent. The contribution of other sectors was below 6.0 percent, with Water and Electricity Supply being the lowest at 1.6 percent.

Real GDP for the first quarter of 2021 increased by 0.7 percent compared to a contraction of 4.6 percent registered in the previous quarter.

The improvement in the first quarter 2021 GDP reflected continued efforts to reopen businesses and resume activities that were postponed or restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The real GDP increased by 0.7 percent during the period under review, compared to an increase of 1.2 percent in the same quarter of 2020.

The recovery in the domestic economy was observed across majority of industries except Accommodation & Food Services, Mining & Quarrying, Manufacturing, Construction, Other Services and Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing.

The overall slow performance of the economy was mainly due to the impact of measures that were put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Non-mining GDP increased by 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 4.0 percent increase registered in the same quarter of the previous year.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing industry decreased by 2.0 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, relative to a contraction of 5.2 percent registered during the same quarter of 2020.

The main driver of the unfavorable performance stems from a decrease in real value added of Livestock farming by 3.0 percent.

Mining and Quarrying registered a decrease 11.4 percent in the real value added, this was mainly influenced by the drop in the Gold and Diamond real value added by 17.5 and 12.5 percent respectively.

Diamond production in carats went down by 12.1 percent while the tonnage of Gold produced went down by 17.5 percent.

The poor performance of the diamond sub-industry is attributed to the reduction in production due to a lower grade feed to the plant at Orapa in response to heavy rainfall and operational issues, including continued power supply disruptions.

With regard to Gold is due to diminishing resource base which affect production.

The Manufacturing industry recorded a decline of 7.4 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, compared to a decrease of 2.3 percent registered in the corresponding quarter of 2020.

The deep low performance in the industry is observed in the two major sub-industries of Beverages & tobacco and Diamond cutting, polishing and setting by 57.0 and 38.5 percent respectively.

The reduction in Beverages is attributed to alcohol sale ban imposed during the quarter under review in order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On the other hand, exports of polished diamonds went down by 24.9 percent compared to a decrease of 11.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year.

The construction industry recorded a decline of 4.8 percent compared to an increase of 4.3 percent realized in the corresponding quarter in 2020.

This industry comprises of buildings construction, civil engineering and specialized construction activities. The industry is still showing signs of the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. The industry recorded a negative growth of 7.4 percent in the previous quarter.

Water and Electricity Water and Electricity value added at constant 2016 prices for the first quarter of 2021 was P506.2 million compared to P378.2 million registered in the same quarter of 2020, recording a growth of 33.8 percent.

In the first quarter of 2021, Electricity recorded a significant growth of 62.4 percent compared to a decrease of 67.6 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2020.

The local electricity production increased by 22.4 percent while Electricity imports decreased by 33.3 percent during quarter under review. The water industry recorded a value added of P231.3 million compared to P209.0 million registered in the same quarter of the previous year, registering an increase of 10.7 percent.

Wholesale and Retail Trade real value added increased by 11.4 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to an increase of 5.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The industry deals with sales of fast moving consumer goods.

Diamond Traders recorded a significant growth of 112.7 percent as opposed to a decline of 22.7 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter last year. The positive growth is due to improved demand of diamonds from the global market.

The Transport and Storage value added increased by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to a 2.4 percent increase recorded in the same quarter of the previous year.

The slight improved performance of the industry was mainly attributed to the increase in real value added of Road Transport and Post & Courier Services by 4.3 and 2.1 percent respectively.

The slow growth was influenced by a significant reduction in Air Transport services of 69.7 percent due to reduced number of passengers carried. Rail goods traffic in tonnes went down by 6.4 percent and passenger rail transport was not operating during the quarter under review.

Accommodation and Food Services Accommodation and Food Services real value added declined by 31.7 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to a decrease of 4.4 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The reduction is largely attributed to a decrease of 42.1 percent in real value added of the Accommodation activities subindustry.

The suspension of air travel occasioned by Covid-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering the borders of the country and hence affecting the output of Hotels and Restaurants industry. COVID-19 restriction measures resulted in reduced demand for leisure and conferencing activities, as conferences are largely held through virtual platforms.

Finance, Insurance and Pension Funding industry registered a positive growth of 8.3 percent due to the favorable performance from monetary intermediation and Central Banking Services by 16.4 and 5.4 percent respectively during quarter under review.

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Business

Chobe Holdings secures P16 million for dark days

28th July 2021
Chobe Holdings

It is still tough in the tourism industry — big players in this sleeping giant are not having it easy, but options are being explored to keep the once vibrant multibillion Pula sector alive until the world gets back to normalcy.

One of the primary measures against the spread of Covid-19 is to stay home; this widely pronounced precaution against the global contagion that has claimed over 4 million lives across the world is however a thorn in the flesh of one of the major industries in the global economy — the tourism sector .

This sector is underpinned by travel – an act which is the virus‘ number one mode of spread, especially across borders.

Chobe Holdings Limited, one of Botswana’s leading high end eco-tourism giants said its survival strategies are underpinned by well-crafted stakeholder engagements in the mist of these unprecedented times of muted trading activity.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Chobe continued to invest in and strengthen its relationships with key stakeholders in both its traditional markets and the SADC region,” the company directors updated shareholders this week.

To keep the business afloat, the company which owns and operates some of the exquisite tourism destinations along the banks of the mighty Chobe said it has triggered its existing available debt financing avenues.

Chobe revealed that its current overdraft of BWP 25 million has been extended on favourable terms.

The company shared that it has negotiated a further USD 1.5 million (over P16 million) standby loan with a flexible settlement terms and preferable cost implications to the bottom line.

“We are confident that the Group has sufficient cash inflows, cash reserves and un-utilized prearranged borrowing in place to settle any liabilities falling due and support the smooth recovery of operations in the short and medium term,” the company directors said, noting that they will retain the flexibility to vary operations should market conditions change.

Early this year, Chobe announced that the ongoing crisis in the tourism industry forced the company to draw from its prearranged overdraft facility of P25 million to the extent of P11.6 million.

Last year Chobe’s occupancy levels around its lodges and hotels went down 89 percent. This resulted in unprecedented revenue decline of 93% to P27.78 million from the P373.94 million in the previous year ended February 2020.

Operating profits went down 159% with profit after tax down 170%, mirroring a loss of over P67 million.

Chobe management said during the last half of the financial year they have done all they could to contain costs across the company’s operations.

During the last half of the year Chobe’s marketing and reservations teams continued to pursue the “don’t cancel but defer policy”.

“We thus continue to hold advance travel receipts, to the value of about P34 million at the financial year end,” the company revealed early this year.

Chobe said it continues to engage Government, through HATAB and BTO to prioritize the vaccination of workers in the tourism sector.

“Throughout the pandemic we have ensured that employees are trained in and comply with COVID-19 infection mitigation protocols as well as ensuring that all visitors to our remote camps and lodges as well as our staff and contractors are tested for COVID-19 before reaching the camp or lodges,” the company said.

However, the company said vaccinating the tourism staff will provide the best way to ensure that both employees and guests are protected from the virus.

“We continue to manage our cashflow through stringent cost control measures, balanced against the protection of the Group’s physical assets and the wellbeing and retention of its people,” the company said.

Chobe has successfully retained its top management through the pandemic.  To this end the company directors continue to closely monitor the Group’s recovery from COVID-19 and adjust salary reductions to support operations and aid retention.

Domestic and regional travel resumed during the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year with the Group opening a strategic mix of camps and lodges.

A comprehensive domestic, regional and international marketing plan was put in place to support these openings.

International travel resumed in the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year with occupancies forecast to steadily increase, albeit from a low base, through the second quarter.

The company is optimistic that forward bookings are strong for the 2022/23 financial year.

“There is pent-up demand from our traditional source markets to travel now, but this is tempered by uncertainty and access constraints,” the company stated.

“Both the domestic and international markets are sensitive to such uncertainty, and it is critical that both the private and public sector work together to develop and publish clear, authoritative and consistent travel information in order to build confidence”

Chobe entered the pandemic with the Shinde camp rebuild in progress — one of its high end camps and this was completed in the first half of the 2020/21 financial year accounting for the majority of the Group’s capital expenditure for that period.

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Business

De Beers Q2 production jumps in response to strong rough diamond demand

28th July 2021
De-Beers -jwaneng-mine

De Beers Group, the world’s leading rough diamonds producer by value and Botswana’s partner in the diamond business, ramped up its production in the second quarter of 2021, in response to stronger demand for rough diamonds in the global markets.

The London headquartered diamond mining giant revealed in its production report this week that rough diamonds output  increased by 134% to 8.2 million carats in the three(3) months  of quarter 2 2021, “reflecting planned higher production to meet stronger demand for rough diamonds”.

This was against the backdrop of curtailed demand in the same quarter last year, mirroring the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns across southern Africa during that period.

In Botswana, where De Beers sources majority of its rough diamonds through partly government owned Debswana, production increased by 214% to 5.7 million carats. The percentage jump mirrored planned low production in the second quarter of 2020 where output was adjusted to market demands and implemented Covid-19 protocols.

Debswana operates four (4) Mines: Jwaneng Mine- being its flagship producer and largest revenue contributor. Jwaneng Mine which is the wealthiest diamond mine in the world by value is envisaged for multi-billion expansion to an underground operation in future to stretch its existence by few more decades.

The underground project which is anticipated to cost a whooping P65 billion will be the world‘s largest underground diamond mine.

The company which accounts for over 65 % of De Beers’s global production also operates Orapa Mine- one of the world’s largest by area, Letlhakane Mine currently a tailings treatment operation and Damtshaa Mine which is under care and maintenance following market shrink in 2020.

Namibia production decreased by 6% to 0.3 million carats, primarily due to planned maintenance of the Mafuta vessel which was completed in the quarter and another vessel remaining demobilized.  In Namibia De Beers sources diamonds both in land and marine through Namdeb and Debmarine respectfully.

In South Africa-the spiritual home ground of De Beers Group, production increased by 130% to 1.3 million carats, due to planned treatment of higher grade ore from the final cut of the Venetia open pit, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown in Q2 2020.

Production in Canada increased by 14% to 0.9 million carats, primarily reflecting the impact of the Covid-19 measures implemented in Q2 2020.

De Beers said consumer demand for polished diamonds continued to recover, leading to strong demand for rough diamonds from midstream cutting and polishing centers, despite the impact on capacity from the severe Covid-19 wave in India during April and May.

Rough diamond sales totaled 7.3 million carats (6.5 million carats on a consolidated basis), from two Sights, reflecting the impact of the reduced Indian midstream capacity on Sight 4, compared with 0.3 million carats (0.2 million carats on a consolidated basis) from two Sights in Q2 2020, and 13.5 million carats (12.7 million carats on a consolidated basis) from three Sights in Q1 2021.

The H1 2021 consolidated average realized price increased by 13% to $135/ct (H1 2020: $119/ct), driven by an increased proportion of higher value rough diamonds sold.

While the average price index remained broadly flat, the closing index increased by 14% compared to the start of 2021, reflecting tightness in inventories across the diamond value chain as well as positive consumer demand for polished diamonds.

Full Year Guidance Production guidance is tightened to 32–33 million carats (previously 32-34 million carats (100% bases)), subject to trading conditions and the extent of any further Covid-19 related disruptions.

When commenting to 2021 quarter 2 production figures, Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of Anglo American- De Beers parent, said the entire Anglo American Group delivered a solid operational performance supported by comprehensive Covid-19 measures to help safeguard the lives and livelihoods of its workforce and host communities.

“We have generally maintained operating levels at approximately 95% of normal capacity and, as a consequence, production increased by 20% compared to Q2 of last year, with planned higher rough diamond production at De Beers” he said.

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