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African Development Bank’s Economic Outlook shows decline in regional economies

The African Development Bank has expanded its flagship publication, the African Economic Outlook, with five regional reports. The regional economic studies were released in Tunis (North Africa), Abidjan (West and Central Africa), Nairobi (Eastern Africa) and Pretoria (Southern Africa).

 "By offering regional approaches for the first time, we want to leverage the Bank's expertise and give more depth of analysis and relevance to this publication," said Celestin Monga, Chief Economist and Vice President of the African Development Bank's Economic Governance and Knowledge Management. "The integration of specific reports for each region reflect the importance the Bank’s focus on the regional dimensions of development and inclusive growth in Africa," said Mohamed El Azizi, Director General of the North Africa Region.

North Africa: a positive outlook for 2018 and 2019

North Africa ended 2017 with growth of 4.9% of real GDP, up from 3.3% recorded in 2016. The region’s economic performance is above a 3.6% average for the continent, thanks to higher than expected oil production in Libya and the performance of Morocco, which saw growth rise from 1.2% in 2016 to 4.1% in 2017, on account of increased agricultural productivity.

Egypt’s macroeconomic and structural reforms led to a 4% growth in 2017. Overall, growth in the North Africa region was fueled by new high value-added sectors such as electronics and mechanics, as well as private and public consumption. The region’s outlook remains positive for 2018 and 2019, on account of structural reforms. Growth in North Africa is expected to reach 5% and 4.6% respectively in 2018 and 2019.

East Africa: the best economic performance of the continent

According to Nnena Nwabufo, the Bank’s Deputy Director General for the East Africa Region, the East African Economic Outlook highlights a number of policies that member countries must implement to transform their economies. East Africa, with thirteen countries, recorded the continent’s best economic performance with a GDP growth rate of 5.9% in 2017 −a rate much higher than the growth recorded by the other regions of the continent, and above the continental average of 3.6%. The good performance of the East African sub region is stimulated by six countries: Ethiopia, Tanzania, Djibouti, Rwanda, Seychelles and Kenya. The outlook remains positive for 2018 and 2019, with growth expected to continue, reaching 5.9% in 2018 and 6.2% in 2019.

Southern Africa: economic recovery started, but contrasting growth

Estimated at 1.6% on average in 2017, real GDP growth in Southern Africa is expected to improve to 2% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2019.  Deputy Director General of the Bank for Southern Africa, Josephine Ngure said: "The Southern Africa region has made considerable progress in the fight against poverty and improvements in the quality of life of its inhabitants, through the implementation of policies targeting the acceleration of industrialization and the promotion of growth and job creation."

However, economic forecasts remain cautious, especially given the very different growth patterns of the region's economies. The economic "locomotive" of the region, South Africa, shows signs of slow growth, and possibly declining growth, while low-income countries and the economies in transition, such as Madagascar and Mozambique, recorded more important growth.

"High fiscal deficits and rising public debt pose challenges to macroeconomic stability in several southern African countries. Governments should put in place measures to improve the mobilization of domestic resources and funds from the private sector to ensure adequate levels of development spending, stimulate growth and create jobs, especially for young people, "said Stefan Muller, Bank’s Senior Economist for Southern Africa.

West Africa: Progress in a contrasting panorama

After several good years, economic growth in West Africa stagnated at 0.5% in 2016.   The decline in the price of raw materials and the unimpressive performance of Nigeria, which alone accounts for about 70% of the sub region’s GDP, were some of the key factors identified as responsible for stagnation. Economic growth in West Africa rebounded to 2.5% in 2017 and is projected to rise to 3.8% in 2018 and 3.9% in 2019. Household consumption and the relative price recovery of certain materials are expected to contribute to this performance.


Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, Deputy Director General of the African Development Bank for West Africa, identified job creation, especially for young people as the big challenge for the sub-region. "The 2018 Regional Economic Outlook for West Africa presents a comprehensive analysis of the economy and the labor market of 15 countries, focusing on macroeconomic stability, employment and poverty of the population living in West Africa. Let us not forget that some of the countries in this sub-region are facing enormous security challenges, "she said.

Central Africa: Better prospects after a modest performance

The Central African region recorded 0.9% real GDP in 2017, the lowest growth rate of the continent, although it represents a relative improvement over growth of 0.1% in 2016. This sub regional performance masks many disparities between countries: relatively good growth for Cameroon and the Central African Republic, and very low growth for Equatorial Guinea and Congo. The economic difficulties in Central Africa are largely due to lower raw material prices, which some countries in the region are heavily dependent on, as well as recurring security threats in others.

The outlook for 2018 and 2019 is more encouraging, fueled by rising world prices for raw materials and domestic demand. According to the Bank's projections, real GDP growth in Central Africa is expected to reach 2.4 percent in 2018 and 3 percent in the following year. Other enabling factors include sound macroeconomic management and a more favorable institutional environment.

"With improvements in the economic situations of Congo and Equatorial Guinea, the economic performance of the sub-region is expected to improve in 2018 and 2019. It would be good to include this improvement over time through the diversification of economies of the sub region," said Racine Kane, Deputy Director General of the African Development Bank for Central Africa.

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Business

BTC profits rise to P832million

14th September 2021
BTC MD Masunga

This week, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL), the country’s only listed telecoms company, released its annual report for the financial year ended 31st March 2021.

The company, listed on the local bourse in a historic IPO in 2016, has been grappling with the uphill task of transforming from a wholly state-owned organisation to a fully commercial publicly listed entity. This excise has seen some financial years registering a decline in both revenue and profits.

On Tuesday, BTCL reported a significant rise in profits, attributable to a slight pick-up in revenue and serious cost containment measures. The beginning of the fiscal year saw the implementation of the company’s new three-year strategy, which is focused on strengthening the core business, optimising efficiencies and return on assets, and pursuing growth opportunities.

The start of the financial year coincided with the implementation of the national measures to contain the COVID-19 virus, leading to national lockdowns, which placed pressure on the BTCL performance for the first half of the year. “However, we have since seen a decent recovery in our financial performance year-on-year,” said BTCL Managing Director Anthony Masunga

BTCL Group, which comprises among other business segments: mobile, fixed and broadband, has reported revenue of P1.43 billion, which is a 1% increase over the prior year. According to BTCL directors, this increase in revenue was driven by the monetisation of significant investments in fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure in support of high-speed internet service at homes and offices across most parts of the country.

“We delivered a strong double-digit growth in profit after tax of 16% when compared with the prior year, driven by the slight increase in revenue and robust cost reduction strategies that improved EBITDA to P463 million, leading to an increase in cash,” Masunga explained. Cash and cash equivalents significantly increased by 20.4%, from P120 million in the prior year to P364 million at the end of March 2021.

The increase was driven by a positive cash conversion ratio of 52% and favourable working capital resulting from debt collection measures during the year. Masunga explained that the healthy cash balance enabled the BTCL to finance further expansion of its mobile data network and replace traditional copper connections with fibre to better support the needs of its customers.

“The uptake of our data products has been growing steadily, with the improving quality of service leading to increased revenues even as voice revenues declined,” he said. The cost of services and goods sold reduced by 3% from P612 million to P594 million when compared to the previous year, leading to an increase in gross profit for the year by 3%, an increase of P27 million to P832 million, translating to an improvement in gross profit margin from 57% to 58%.

Despite the increase in the top line, which would have led to a rise in the cost base, the Group Continued with its robust cost containment measures, leading to a slight increase in all other operating costs by P3 million. The control of costs led to an overall increase in the earnings before interest, depreciation, taxation and amortisation (EBIDTA) by P55 million, with a margin expansion of 370 basis points compared to the previous year.

The operating margin increased by 2% to 13%, coming from the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to P186 million, a P24 million increase compared to the prior-year figure of P163 million.
Net interest increased significantly, driven by the new accounting treatment of the IRU liability. All the above led to an overall increase in the profit before tax of P27 million, which increased to reportable gain to P166 million.

The Group ended the year with a P135 million profit after tax compared to P117 million for the same period last year with a tax expense of P31 million in the current year, which is higher when compared to the P22 million reported in 2020. Therefore, the Group delivered an impressive 16% increase year-on-year with a 9% net profit margin, compared to 8% in the prior year.

BTCL continues to dominate the fixed-line business despite a continued reduction in the demand for fixed lines globally and locally. Trends continue to show an increased shift of consumer preference to mobile communications, a direction according to Anthony Masunga is due to his company’s “increased flexibility, convenience, and innovation.’

BTCL’s mobile phone market also continued to grow during the year, with many consumers owning multiple SIM cards from the three mobile network operators. Smega, BTC’s Mobile Money Services, saw significant growth in subscriptions during the year, and we expect to attract more customers as the Group continues the Visa card rollout.

Masunga boasted that Smega could interact with traditional banking systems, offering more convenience to BTCL customers. “The platform supports greater financial inclusion for the country’s sizeable unbanked population,” he said. BTC Board Chair Lorato Ntakhwana said that in the future, the 51 percent government-owned telecom giant will bank on its new 3-year strategy for growth paths.

She revealed that the new strategy would build on the great foundation set by its predecessor, enabling BTC to reap the full benefits of its digital infrastructure investment to drive the growth of the business.

Ntakhwana explained that the digital transformation of the business underpins the strategy to realise enhanced efficiencies and continue to maximise the utilisation of its technologies. “We remain committed to transforming BTC into a digital services company, leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution to create maximum shareholder value. We see technology and digitisation as a vehicle to the provision of solutions to the nation’s challenges,” she said.

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Business

FNBB’s profit after tax down 2%

14th September 2021
FNBB CEO - Steven Bogatsu

First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) has released its audited summarised consolidated financial statement for the year ended 30 June 2021. According to the statement, the balance sheet reduced by 6% year-on-year primarily due to declining gross advances to customers. Credit risk remained heightened amid the prevalent economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bank said it continued to apply a prudent approach to lending to ensure responsible and manageable consumer exposure, which resulted in a decline in gross customer advances by 7% while gross market advances increased by 4%.

Retail advances experienced a sharp decline of 7%, while the Botswana retail market increased by 9%. According to the bank’s financial statement, the decline was driven by competitive pressures, with the market extending loan tenures, resulting in increased market debt. However, the bank maintained its existing affordability criteria and a selective approach to retail exposure.

The corporate segment experienced remarkable growth of 19% year on year. In comparison, the commercial advances portfolio reduced 19% because of a cautious lending risk appetite, a reduction in the Non-Performing Loans (NPL) and the overall lack of growth in the market.

The combined result of FNBB’s commercial and corporate advances was a decline of 7% against the overall comparable decrease of 3% in the market. While actively looking for the opportunities arising out of the anticipated recovery pattern, the bank said it would continue to be cautious in maintaining the quality of its credit book.

NPLs, according to FNBB financial declined by 11% year-on-year from P1.2 billion to P1.09 billion, resulting in a NPL/gross advances ratio of 7.3% as of 30 June 2021. FNBB stressed that reduction in NPL was primarily due to a recoverability assessment of long-outstanding NPL loans resulting in the write-off of irrecoverable loans. The closing provision levels remain appropriate.

The June 2020 deposit portfolio experienced significant growth following the reduced spending commensurate with the lockdown restrictions and deferred capital expenditure cycles by corporates. In the June 2021 results, deposits declined from P23.2bn to P21.4bn (8% decline), driven by an increase in activity following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the normalisation of the market liquidity.

Investment securities declined by 17% year-on-year following the normalisation of market liquidity to pre COVID-19 levels. The decline was driven by the drop in short term assets at the back of the decrease in demand deposits.

FNBB indicated that it had demonstrated a resilient performance amid COVID-19 uncertainty shown by maintaining the profit before tax despite the significant reduction in the Bank Rate. This was underpinned by the normalisation of credit losses and a resilient non-interest revenue (NIR) base. Return on equity of 18.2% (2020: 20.1%) has declined due to the conservative level of capital held over the financial year, as well as the 2% reduction in profit after tax.

The past year has presented itself as a real and severe economic test, and FNBB has shown that its income streams are resilient while a critical focus has been on strengthening the balance sheet. A decrease of 15% in interest income was driven by the reduction in the Bank Rate, the decline in the advances book, and a change in the advances portfolio mix.

This was further driven by the fall in the cash and investment portfolio interest income due to the reduction in risk-free rates and lower yields across investment securities for a portion of the year. Interest expense decreased 22% following an 8% decrease in deposits and the Bank Rate reduction. The deposit mix shifted from overnight deposits to term deposits as clients sought higher yields.

Impairments declined by 43% year-on-year, driven by a 49% reduction in both Stage 1 and 2 impairments, as well as a 40% reduction in Stage 3 impairments. The stage 1 and 2 impairment decline followed a reduction in the gross advances exposure and the normalisation of impairments in June 2021.

The Stage 3 impairments decline, is attributed to a reduction in defaults over the period, with the bank has partnered with clients to help their businesses through the pandemic. The P180m reduction in impairments decreases the credit loss ratio to 1.6% (2020: 2.6%).

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Business

De Beers rough sales up

14th September 2021
rough diamonds

De Beers Group on Wednesday announced the value of rough diamond sales (Global Sightholder Sales and Auctions) for the seventh sales cycle of 2021.

Figures show continued growth in rough sales, bolstered by solid demand for polished goods in the key markets of the United States of America and China. The 2021 cycle seven rough sales clocked a provisional figure of $514 million, a slight increase from $513 million recorded in the previous cycle. The jump, however, is a significant increase when mirrored against the 2020 cycle 7 figure of $334 million.

Owing to the restrictions on the movement of people and products in various jurisdictions around the globe, De Beers Group continued to implement a more flexible approach to rough diamond sales during the seventh sales cycle of 2021, with the Sight event extended beyond its typical week-long duration.

As a result, the provisional rough diamond sales figure quoted for Cycle 7 represents the expected sales value for 23 August to 7 September. It remains subject to adjustment based on final completed sales. Commenting on the sales results Bruce Cleaver, Chief Executive Officer of De Beers Group, said sentiment in the diamond industry’s midstream continues to be positive, as reflected in the company’s sales for Sight 7.

Cleaver explained that demand for rough diamonds results from robust demand for polished diamonds in De Beers’sBeers’s key markets of the US and China. He highlighted that the midstream’s optimism for the remainder of the year was also evident at the recent JCK Las Vegas trade show, which was a success despite being held under challenging circumstances.

“As we now head towards a traditionally slower period for rough diamond sales, we remain cognisant of the risks to economic recovery from the global pandemic,” he said. De Beers impressive rough sales run is against the backdrop of performance come back in the first half of the year.

The revenue for the first six (6) months of 2021 demonstrated resilience and an impressive comeback following a devastating 2020. The more significant part of 2020, in particular, the first half of the year, was characterized by low demand across the entire diamond value chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countries put measures to curb the spread of the virus that broke out of China in late 2019; this came with travel restrictions that curtailed the movement of goods and people, reducing trade to record low levels. However, this year as crucial markets continue to reopen and exhibit signs of pre-covid demand levels, De Beers total revenue for the first half of 2021 increased significantly to $2.9 billion (Over P32 billion) from $1.2 billion (P13 billion), mirroring a jump of over 141%.

The growth in revenue for the first half of the year was bolstered by continued recovery in global consumer demand for diamonds, as the industry dusts itself from the impact of Covid-19, supported by fiscal stimulus in the US and the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines. Restrictions on international travel and entertainment over the pandemic resulted in higher discretionary spending on luxury goods, including diamond jewellery.

In the first six months of 2021, the cutting centres achieved strong sales of polished diamonds in response to the ongoing recovery of consumer demand. However, the severe Covid-19 wave in India during April and May reduced capacity to cut and polish operations within the critical Indian midstream sector, further exacerbated by polished diamond grading backlogs in critical markets.

The relative shortage of polished supply contributed to a positive, polished price trend in the first half of 2021. The recovery of demand in all parts of the pipeline enabled rough diamond producers to destock at the start of 2021. This robust demand, combined with supply constraints arising from production challenges, created a favourable dynamic in the first half of 2021 that supported higher rough diamond prices.

At half-year, De Beers rough diamond sales had risen to $2.6 billion from $1.0 billion in the half-year 2020, and this was driven by robust rough diamond demand as the midstream pulled through stocks in response to the recovery in consumer demand, with rough diamond sales volumes significantly higher at 19.2 million carats from 8.5 million carats in the first six (6) months of 2020.

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