Bank of Botswana has released the Business Expectation Survey for the last half of the year which shows that there has been an increase in overall business confidence. However businesses still remain wary of the uncertainties surrounding demand for commodities in the global market, which continues to threaten business operations.
The Bank undertakes the Business Expectations Survey (BES) twice a year in order to collect information on perceptions among the local business community about the prevailing state of the economy, as well as future prospects. Businesses are asked to respond to a range of questions relating to, among others, the business climate and prospects for economic growth, inflation and business performance over the survey horizon, which starts from the second half of 2016 until end of 2017.
The survey report shows that overall business confidence in the last half of the year is 43 percent, up by 7 percent from the level that prevailed during the first half of the year reported in the March 2016 survey. The higher confidence level in the second half of 2016 is, however, five percentage points lower than the 48 percent anticipated for the same period at the time of the March 2016 survey. Moreover, there is an improvement in the level of confidence for the rest of the survey period, rising to 51 percent in the first half of 2017 and to 58 percent for the entire 2017.
Domestic oriented businesses were much more optimistic with the level of confidence reaching 43 percent in second half, compared to 31 percent in the first half of the year. Looking ahead, the level of optimism improves to 46 percent in the first half of 2017 and 52% for the whole of 2017.
However, the survey reveals that the confidence level of export-oriented businesses declined significantly, from 71 percent in the first half of the year as reported in the previous survey, to 42 percent in the last half of 2016. Going forward, business confidence recovers markedly to anticipated levels of 75 percent and 92 percent in H1 2017 and the whole of 2017, respectively. Thus, the overall expected upswing in business confidence for 2017 is due to a more positive outlook by both export and domestic oriented businesses.
When it comes to national output growth, businesses are conservative about Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth. On average, businesses expect real GDP to grow by 2 percent in 2016 and by 2.6 percent in 2017. These are lower than the government forecasts of 3.5 percent for 2016 and 4.1 percent for 2017, indicated in the Budget Strategy Paper for 2017/18. According to the report, the expected economic growth rate for 2016 by the business community, is an improvement over the actual contraction of 0.3 percent realised in 2015, and is consistent with the improving business confidence.
In terms of capacity utilization, investments, input costs and job creation, the majority (85 percent) of businesses expect to utilise at least 50 percent of their productive capacity in the second half of 2016, while at the same time anticipating to raise investment and employment levels in the first half of 2017. This is in spite of strong business sentiments about rising costs of inputs in the period.
The survey indicates that 15 percent of the respondents anticipate operating below 50 percent of their productive capacity in the current period, while 54 percent expect to produce between 50 and 80 percent of their capacity; 31 percent of the businesses expect their productive capacity to exceed 80 percent. Thus, the current levels of capacity utilisation by businesses are broadly comparable with those reported in the March 2016 survey (46 percent anticipated operating between 50 and 80 and 33 percent expected to exceed 80 percent), hence suggesting that the business environment is still challenging, but stable.
Despite the challenging operating environment, the businesses surveyed are optimistic about demand for their products and services, expecting inventory levels to drop as they move more products and services in the first half of 2017.
“In turn, this feeds through to more positive expectations regarding production, employment and profitability in the current period and the remaining period of the survey. Nonetheless, expectations for investment in building, plant and machinery and other items in H2 2016, have been revised downwards in the current survey, compared to expectations for the same period expressed in the March Survey,” the report stated.
Still on that, the report highlighted that there is an improvement in expectations relating to investment in vehicles and equipment between the two surveys. Looking ahead, a majority of businesses anticipate to undertake more investment in the first half of 2017, indicative of the optimistic outlook for 2017.
The Business Expectations Report also reveals that sentiment amongst firms regarding rising cost of inputs is still strong and higher than in the March 2016 Survey. Nonetheless, expectations of higher costs eased for wages and utilities, while remaining broadly strong for materials, rent, and transport and other items in the first half of 2017. The survey from respondents show that expectations of rising costs of inputs decreases in the later period of the survey, consistent with moderating inflation expectations.
The decision by the central bank to slash the bank rate in 2015 and 2016 has struck a chord with the business community as the survey shows that they anticipate an easy access to credit with a bias towards domestic borrowing in the early part of 2017 due to favourable interest rates, before opting to borrow from South Africa later in the year, taking advantage of the currency exchange. The report further reveals that for capital investment, companies would prefer to borrow domestically than abroad (South Africa and international markets) in the first half of 2017, but would opt to borrow from South Africa in the 12-months period to December 2017.
“Regarding borrowing costs, there is some anticipation of lower domestic interest rates in the first half of 2017 before rates start to rise in the later part of the year. Expectations of lower domestic interest rates are aligned to the reduction of the Bank rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent since August 2016, together with prevailing low inflation, which continues to fluctuate around the lower end of the Bank’s 3 – 6 percent range,” part of the report reads.
While in 2015 there were talks of liquidity crisis, the central bank eased the reserve requirements cap, allowing for more money in the banking sector to enable more lending. The decision appears to have opened doors for businesses. In terms of access to finance, there is a reduction in the proportion of businesses which believe access to credit is tight (44.9 percent compared to 50.8 percent in the previous survey), while the number of those viewing access as easy has fallen from 13.6 percent in the March 2016 Survey to 9 percent. However, there is a significant increase in the proportion of businesses which believe access to credit is normal (46.2 percent from 35.6 percent in the March 2016 Survey). In general, compared to the March 2016 survey, the business sentiment about access to finance has improved.
Despite inflation rate treading below the bank’s medium term range for most part of the year, the respondents projected inflation is above the current inflationary levels but within the Bank’s inflation objective, suggesting confidence in the bank’s monetary policy.
“Businesses have revised their inflation expectations for 2016 slightly downwards to an average of 3.6 percent from 3.7 percent in the March 2016 Survey. Inflation expectations of 3.8 percent for 2017 remained the same as in the March 2016 Survey. Despite the relatively low average inflation expectations, they still remain above actual inflation which averaged 2.8 percent in the 9 months to September 2016,” the report said and also adding that the majority of respondents expect inflation to be within the Bank of Botswana’s medium term inflation objective range of 3-6 percent in 2016 (66 percent) and 2017 (68 percent), possibly reflecting the sustained period during which inflation has been within the objective range, which adds to the Bank’s policy credibility.
In the previous surveys, local based businesses used to cite the water and power crisis as a major challenge to their operations. However in the latest survey respondents now point to weakening domestic demand coupled with reduced government spending as the first and second most significant challenges facing businesses due to perceived slow growth in household disposable income and public expenditure. According to the report, the next ranked impediments to business operations relate to regulatory and supervisory framework and availability of raw materials. Respondents also highlight unavailability of skilled labour and weak international demand among the serious challenges they face.
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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”