BARCLAYS BOTSWANA MANAGING DIRECTOR: Reinette van de Merwe
Barclays Bank of Botswana has reported profits lower than the previous period as economic and other trading conditions continue to pull down on the profit margins.
But before the bank announced its financial results for the year ended 2015, Reinette van de Merwe, Barclays Bank Botswana’s managing director, assured the customers and shareholders that Barclays Botswana as well as its parent company Barclays Africa have nothing to worry about following the recent announcement by Barclays PLC to reduce its large stake in Barclays Africa, as the latter is independent and boasts of a strong balance sheet and is well capitalised.
With that out of the way, De Merwe said Barclays Botswana remains a profitable entity despite operating in an environment punctuated by sluggish economic performance, low interest rates, water and electricity crisis.
On giving a brief about the strategy they embarked on in 2014, the bank managing director said the journey has been and continues to be exciting despite pressing economic headwinds. “We are now in the third year of our journey. Our vision of becoming the bank of choice in Botswana is becoming a reality. Barclays Bank of Botswana has a strong Balance Sheet of over P14 billion and employs around 1 200 people. De Merwe said they are a big bank with big ambitions.
Now the key strategy of where to play and how to win; In retail banking we serve our chosen segments through the premium, prestige and personal propositions, while our business banking chooses segments of agriculture, tourism and franchise,” before she added that Barclays Bank wants to deepen its role in the public sector and support local expansion for quantum growth, making the bank the most accessible in Botswana.
For the period under review, net interest income leapt by 2 percent to deliver P909.9 million even though the Bank of Botswana (BoB) slashed the bank rate by 150 basis in 2015, an act that saw Barclays Botswana losing out on more than P100 million. Another positive gain was the net trading and investment income which surged by 31 percent, netting about P104 million.
The gains were offset by a decrease in net fee and commission fees which closed at P270.2 million, an 11 percent drop as a result of the bank’s decision to reduce the cost of financing for their customers. Also eating away at profits was the bank’s conservative approach to impairment charges and other credit provisions which stood at P244.2 million, an increase of 0.6 percent from the corresponding period.
The increase in impairments was sparked by defaults on personal loans from employees in some mining companies that went into liquidation. Moreover inflation also played a hand in reducing profits as the bank reported an increase of 1 percent in operating costs to close at 709.8 million. In the end the bank’s profit was significantly lower than that of 2014 as the bank shed off as much as 22 percent to post profit of P260.5 million for the year ended 2015.
As De Merwe had earlier noted that Barclays Botswana boasts of a strong balance, her words were echoed through Barclays Botswana’s financial position which saw the balance sheet grow by 20 percent to bring the bank’s total assets to P14.6 billion. Leading the rally was the loans and advances book which stands at P9.8 billion, an impressive gain of 20 percent year-on-year growth.
When the liquidity crisis left banks in a tight squeeze, the Bank of Botswana reduced the Primary Reserve Requirement (PRR) from 10 to 5 percent, effectively releasing P2.3 billion in the market to ease the liquidity crunch. Furthermore, the governor of BoB implored banks to come up with exciting products to lure depositors. Barclays Bank will be pleased by the results as the bank’s deposits due to customers spiked by 23 percent driven by positive flows from institutional depositors as the liquidity squeeze eased.
The growth in the balance sheet was supported by the bank’s strategy on how to leverage the bank’s key business segments to extract the maximum efficiencies from them as way of driving growth. The Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB) came to play as its value grew significantly to P2.8 billion.
Moreover customer deposits have also grown to P6.1 billion. The long term strategy for CIB involves growing the asset market share and increasing transactional activity through various product solutions. The Retail and Business Banking (RBB) segment was also another winner as it continued with its upward trajectory as it rode high on its strategy of being a customer centric service provider that retains existing clients while growing market share in chosen sectors and segments.
Overall RBB sustained a strong year-on-year momentum on customer assets recording a growth of 7 percent. The business was also bolstered by the liabilities that remained largely flat. In the end Barclays Botswana declared a final dividend of 7.62 thebe, which is lower than the 11 thebe declared in 2014.
As the bank forges ahead, there are aware of the dangers lurking in the shadows. Van de Merwe admitted that although the two year moratorium placed on bank charges has been lifted, banks are still reeling from its after effects. In another move that might create a slippery slope for banks is the government’s intention to create a credit protection act that will shield customers from debilitating credit effects. For some time now, financial institutions like International Monetary Fund and BoB have been voicing their concerns about the rising household debt that overshadows Batswana’s savings.
Marcian Concepts have been contracted by Selibe Phikwe Economic Unit (SPEDU) in a P230 million project to raise the town from its ghost status. The project is in the design and building phase of building an industrial hub for Phikwe; putting together an infrastructure in Bolelanoto and Senwelo industrial sites.
This project comes as a life-raft for Selibe Phikwe, a town which was turned into a ghost town when the area’s economic mainstay, BCL mine, closed four years ago. In that catastrophe, 5000 people lost their livelihoods as the town’s life sunk into a gloomy horizon. Businesses were closed and some migrated to better places as industrial places and malls became almost empty.
However, SPEDU has now started plans to breathe life into the town. Information reaching this publication is that Marcian Concepts is now on the ground at Bolelanoto and Senwelo and works have commenced. Marcian as a contractor already promises to hire Phikwe locals only, even subcontract only companies from the area as a way to empower the place’s economy.
The procurement method for the tender is Open Domestic bidding which means Joint Ventures with foreign companies is not allowed. According to Marcian Concepts General Manager, Andre Strydom, in an interview with this publication, the project will come with 150 to 200 jobs. The project is expected to take 15 months at a tune of P230 531 402. 76. Marcian will put together construction of roadworks, storm-water drains, water reticulation, street lighting and telecommunication infrastructure. This tender was flouted last year August, but was awarded in June this year. This project is seen as the beginning of Phikwe’s revival and investors will be targeted to the area after the town has worn the ghost city status for almost half a decade.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed its outlook the world economy projecting a significantly deeper recession and slower recovery than it anticipated just two months ago.
On Wednesday when delivering its World Economic Outlook report titled “A long difficult Ascent” the Washington Based global lender said it now expects global gross domestic product to shrink 4.9% this year, more than the 3% predicted in April. For 2021, IMF experts have projected growth of 5.4%, down from 5.8%. “We are projecting a somewhat less severe though still deep recession in 2020, relative to our June forecast,” said Gita Gopinath Economic Counsellor and Director of Research.
The struggle of humanity is now how to dribble past the ‘Great Pandemic’ in order to salvage a lean economic score. Botswana is already working on dwindling fiscal accounts, budget deficit, threatened foreign reserves and the GDP data that is screaming recession.
Latest data by think tank and renowned rating agency, Moody’s Investor Service, is that Botswana’s fiscal status is on the red and it is mostly because of its mineral-dependency garment and tourism-related taxation. Botswana decided to close borders as one of the containment measures of Covid-19; trade and travellers have been locked out of the country. Moody’s also acknowledges that closing borders by countries like Botswana results in the collapse of tourism which will also indirectly weigh on revenue through lower import duties, VAT receipts and other taxes.
Latest economic data shows that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 with a decrease of 27 percent. One of the factors that led to contraction of the local economy is the suspension of air travel occasioned by COVID-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering through the country’s borders and hence affecting the output of the hotels and restaurants industry. This will also be weighed down by, according to Moody’s, emerging markets which will see government losing average revenue worth 2.1 percentage points (pps) of GDP in 2020, exceeding the 1.0 pps loss in advanced economies (AEs).
“Fiscal revenue in emerging markets is particularly vulnerable to this current crisis because of concentrated revenue structures and less sophisticated tax administrations than those in AEs. Oil exporters will see the largest falls but revenue volatility is a common feature of their credit profiles historically,” says Moody’s. The domino effects of containment measures could be seen cracking all sectors of the local economy as taxes from outside were locked out by the closure of borders hence dwindling tax revenue.
Moody’s has placed Botswana among oil importers, small, tourism-reliant economies which will see the largest fall in revenue. Botswana is in the top 10 of that pecking order where Moody’s pointed out recently that other resource-rich countries like Botswana (A2 negative) will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue.
This situation of countries’ revenue on the red is going to stay stubborn for a long run. Moody’s predicts that the spending pressures faced by governments across the globe are unlikely to ease in the short term, particularly because this crisis has emphasized the social role governments perform in areas like healthcare and labour markets.
For countries like Botswana, these spending pressures are generally exacerbated by a range of other factors like a higher interest burden, infrastructure deficiencies, weaker broader public sector, higher subsidies, lower incomes and more precarious employment. As a result, most of the burden for any fiscal consolidation is likely to fall on the revenue side, says Moody’s.
Moody’s then moves to the revenue spin of taxation. The rating agency looked at the likelihood and probability of sovereigns to raise up revenue by increasing tax to offset what was lost in mineral revenue and tourism-related tax revenue. Moody’s said the capacity to raise tax revenue distinguishes governments from other debt issuers. “In theory, governments can change a given tax system as they wish, subject to the relevant legislative process and within the constraints of international law. In practice, however, there are material constraints,” says Moody’s.
‘‘The coronavirus crisis will lead to long-lasting revenue losses for emerging market sovereigns because their ability to implement and enforce effective revenue-raising measures in response will be an important credit driver over the next few years because of their sizeable spending pressures and the subdued recovery in the global economy we expect next year.’’
According to Moody’s, together with a rise in stimulus and healthcare spending related to the crisis, the think tank expects this drop in revenue will trigger a sizeable fiscal deterioration across emerging market sovereigns. Most countries, including Botswana, are under pressure of widening their tax bases, Moody’s says that this will be challenging. “Even if governments reversed or do not extend tax-easing measures implemented in 2020 to support the economy through the coronavirus shock, which would be politically challenging, this would only provide a modest boost to revenue, especially as these measures were relatively modest in most emerging markets,” says Moody’s.
Botswana has been seen internationally as a ‘tax ease’ country and its taxes are seen as lower when compared to its regional counterparts. This country’s name has also been mentioned in various international investigative journalism tax evasion reports. In recent years there was a division of opinions over whether this country can stretch its tax base. But like other sovereigns who have tried but struggled to increase or even maintain their tax intake before the crisis, Botswana will face additional challenges, according to Moody’s.
“Additional measures to reduce tax evasion and cutting tax expenditure should support the recovery in government revenue, albeit from low levels,” advised Moody’s. Botswana’s tax revenue to the percentage of the GDP was 27 percent in 2008, dropped to 23 percent in 2010 to 23 percent before rising to 27 percent again in 2012. In years 2013 and 2014 the percentage went to 25 percent before it took a slip to decline in respective years of 2015 up to now where it is at 19.8 percent.