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Inflation decelerates further

With inflation printing at 2.6% in August, short-term inflation fears were put to bed as risks to the downside proved to be persistent. The August reading was in line with our forecasts and 0.1% below the reading recorded the previous month. We have maintained the view that inflation is yet to reach its trough and in the month under review, the deceleration reached 2.6 percent, the lowest inflation rate we have on record.

This marks the eight consecutive month that inflation came in either at the 3.0 percent lower bound or below. The short-term inflation outlook has been easier to predict with a reasonable degree of confidence given globally low inflation rates as well as soft domestic demand demonstrated by a stable core inflation rate of 3.6 percent.

A month to month analysis of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) revealed that the sub-indices were generally stable recording changes of less than one percentage point. This was an expected result given the absence of any price shocks during the period. Stable food prices and a continued deflationary trend (albeit declining in magnitude) in the transport sector owing to low fuel prices once again ensured that inflation decelerated on a month on month basis as well as when compared to the same period of the previous year at 3.0 percent.  On the food side, FX pass-through remained limited as the pula continued to hold strong relative to the rand, resulting in contained tradeable inflation of 1.5 percent, the same rate printed in July 2016.

On a year-on-year basis, the Miscellaneous Goods & Services category showed the biggest price increase of 7.4percent, mainly due to higher Insurance and Tax license fees which contributed 0.6 and 0.1 percentage points respectively towards the headline inflation. Second to this category was the Food and Housing categories each of whom contributed 0.6 percent towards inflation.

While a call on commodity prices can be quite a difficult task, we believe the oil price should continue to hover around current levels, approaching $50 towards the end of the year as global oil inventory levels continue to decline. From a local pricing point of view we do not see any significant upside pressures on fuel prices in the short to medium term given the cushion provided by the National Petroleum Fund.

However, this benefit will be limited by the extent of the pula’s depreciation against the dollar, mainly influenced by the rand on fears of junk status, which now seems imminent. The rand has nonetheless been enjoying a rally as risk appetite recently returned to markets. Most risks to this rand strength are now more from domestic factors than global. A weaker Pula will be negative for inflation due to the higher cost of imports. Food inflation in South Africa has remained stubbornly high due to a weaker rand and regionally dry conditions. This also poses a threat to the level of inflation that could be imported into Botswana through trade.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned risks, we still expect domestic inflationary pressures to remain subdued for the year, with a gradual uptick in the first half of 2017. Barring any major shocks, we don’t anticipate significantly higher CPI rates. Inflation will likely average 3.0% for the year. Given the latest interest rate cut implemented by the Monetary Policy Committee during the month under review, we expect that rates will remain unchanged to the end of the year. While it can be argued that the benign growth and low inflationary pressures present an opportunity for the committee to ease further, we are of the view that the committee is mindful that most of its trading partners are in a hiking cycle and therefore would not want to materially deviate from historical averages that have been maintained in terms of the real exchange rate differentials to keep the local unit competitive.

Tshephang Loeto is an investment analyst with Investec Asset Management


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Botswana on high red alert as AML joins Covid-19 to plague mankind

21st September 2020

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.

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Finance Committee cautions Gov’t against imprudent raising of debt levels

21st September 2020
Finance Committe Chairman: Thapelo Letsholo

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.

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Gov’t Investment Account drying up fast!  

21st September 2020
Dr Matsheka

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”

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