Choppies Enterprises Limited, the leading grocer in the country, has announced in a cautionary note that it is expecting profit to drop following tough trading conditions in East Africa as well as currency fluctuations that have affected their home operations.
“Choppies is currently finalising its results for the half year ended 31 December 2016, which are expected to be released on BSE and SENS on 14 March2017. The group’s EPS is expected to show a reduction of 40% – 50% from the EPS reported for the half year ended 31 December 2015.
Earnings per share will therefore be in the range of Thebe 4.08 to 4.85 compared to Thebe 8.08 last half year. The group’s HEPS is expected to show a reduction of 30% – 40% from the HEPS reported for the half year ended 31 December 2015. Headline earnings per share will therefore be in the range of Thebe 4.08 to 4.85 compared to Thebe 6.84 last half year,” said Mr. Ramachandran Ottapathu, Choppies CEO, in a note to shareholders.
Mr. Ottapathu added that Choppies, which has been aggressive on its expansion plans, will incur trading losses from new regions such as Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania. The local retail giant suffered a 48 percent drop in profit after tax in 2016 after Group operating margins were negatively impacted by the costs of establishing new geographical locations and opening new stores and distribution centres.
The leading grocer targeting budget consumers commenced operations in Zambia and Kenya in 2016, with five stores in Zambia and 8 stores in Kenya. In the same set of the full financial results for the year ended June 2016, Choppies warned that operations in these countries will remain loss making until 2017 as they continue to expand their store base and invest in operational infrastructures.
Choppies first established presence in Zambia with one store in November 2015 at a time of difficult macroeconomic conditions in the country with the downturn in the mining sector and power cuts presenting major economic and operational challenges. Choppies entered the Kenyan market with an acquisition of seven Ukwala stores, with three more Ukwala supermarkets being taken over in 2017.
Choppies acquired the 10 Ukwala Supermarket outlets in Kenya for R102 million after establishing a joint-venture with a local partner in Kenya who will operate 25% of the company’s operations. The Group has recently head hunted a senior Nakumatt Supermarkets manager to serve as chief executive of the struggling Kenyan operations. Choppies appointed Mr. Vijay Kumar, former chief financial officer at Nakumatt, a position he held since September 2009. Nakumatt is Kenya’s biggest retailer and main competitor to Choppies.
The Botswana based Choppies says Mr. Kumar will also be responsible for the retailer’s foray into the Eastern Africa region, where it plans to set foot in Tanzania with one store in the pipeline. The Group plans to grow the loss making Ukwala’s footprint fourfold in as many years to 40 stores, mainly targeting populous areas in urban areas.
The Group is also expecting losses from its South African operations, however Mr. Ottapathu said despite difficult trading conditions in that country, focussed attention resulted in an improvement with losses narrowing compared to 2016. Choppies has had a tough time in South Africa, failing to make profits ever since the company started operating in South African mining towns. In the previous year, Choppies reported that general trading in South Africa remained under severe pressure.
Mining towns, in which the company had a concentrated footprint, were hard-hit by the drop in demand for commodities and accounted for the bulk of the losses. Further, general spending power was curtailed by a stagnant economy, forcing many shoppers to rely on small social grants. Service delivery strikes and political election-related issues also contributed to the lower trading density. Choppies has been forced to change its strategy in South Africa by moving away from mining towns. The Group has since acquired 21 Jwayelani stores in KwaZulu Natal and Eastern Cape, reducing reliance on small mining towns.
Other than narrowing its losses in South Africa, Choppies has also announced that its Zimbabwean operations have returned to profitability despite trading conditions. The Group with about 30 stores in Zimbabwe has endured challenging conditions in the Zimbabwean battered economy marked by liquidity crisis and subsequent introduction of bond notes. Further complicating the matter was the import ban on certain products and Choppies’ close ties to the ruling elites in Zimbabwe.
During last year protests in the country against the import ban, Choppies was singled out by protesters as they trashed some stores and implored people to shun Choppies as it is partly owned by Mr. Phelekezela Mphoko, the other half of President Robert Mugabe’s two vice presidents. Choppies says the situation has stabilised and improved, allowing for trade to return to normal levels.
While the latest cautionary statement from Choppies makes no mention of the profitability of their Botswana operations, the statement says that operations have been affected by the strengthening of rand against the pula. The Botswana operations remain the Group’s biggest cash cow, generating the bulk of the profits. The Group says Choppies remains the market leader in Botswana, supported by extensive logistics infrastructure, further adding that the opportunity to expand formal retail in Botswana continues unabated and currently accounts for around 60% of the market.
While the group pursues regional expansion, shareholders have shown less faith in the Group’s stock after a drastic fall in stock price both in the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). In 2016, the stock lost almost 50% in value in the BSE and further lost about 48% in the JSE.
Choppies now has a market capitalization of P3.2 billion, down by 28% from the market cap of P4.5 billion in June 2016. The fastest growing grocery retailer in Africa has more than 14,000 employees, more than 183 stores spread across five countries. Choppies says its expansion plans are progressing well and they expect to commence operations in Mozambique and add to their single store in Tanzania in the next few months. The Group plans to roll out at least 20 more stores in all regions by the end of 2017 financial year.
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”