Why the economic outlook is gloomy
The precipitous drop in commodity prices will most likely cause a budget deficit, this is according to Econsult, a local consultancy firm. In their quarterly economic review, they point to struggling emerging markets, particularly China, Brazil and Russia, which are experiencing sluggish economic growth as the cause of the problems. The negative impacts will be largely felt by resource based economies such as Botswana, which has failed to diversify its diamond led economy.
The weak demand for diamonds has resulted in DeBeers reducing prices as much as 10% to stimulate demand, which proved to be a futile move as manufacturers have already enough in their inventories. The slump in diamond sales is expected to persist until 2016, putting pressure on government revenues due to lowered mineral exports.
“Lower exports and government mineral revenues will most likely lead to balance of payments and fiscal deficits in the second half of the year, perhaps extending into 2016,” read part of the review, before adding that “As a result, our revised forecast for real GDP growth for 2015 is now only 1%, lower than the revised projection of 2.6% released by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in its Budget Strategy Paper in September.”
Despite the slump in diamond sales, the economy has noted growth in non-mining private sectors which impressed at a robust growth rate of 5%. The pula remained strong compared to its neighbouring countries which have seen their currencies tumbling on the face of falling commodity prices. This has provided relief as it put aside any fears of immediate crisis.
The Econsult review warns that the fall in commodity prices is not the only problem policymakers in Botswana should be concerned with. Instead they point to a series of maladies which continue to cast a dark shadow on the economic prospects of the country.
These include, the water and electricity crisis, lack of transparency in immigration, slow progress in implementing promised reforms to improve business climate, slow progress in establishing a framework for public private partnerships and no implementation of privatisation commitments. “All of these add up to an environment of increasing economic uncertainty, which is a deterrent to investment both local and foreign, and job creation,” warned the consultancy firm.
The Econsult quarterly economic report has indicated that the government’s effort to stimulate the economy through the Economic Stimulus Package would have a two pronged outcome. In the short term it will boost economic activity and some job creation, particularly in the construction sector. In the long term “it seems unlikely that the stimulus package will address underlying constraints or help move the economy onto a higher long-term growth path. The real causes of slowing growth are not a lack of government spending, but a lack of competitiveness,” noted Econsult.
The consultancy firm further noted that the stimulus package should be met with caution as it could make things worse. They pointed out that the package will move the budget to larger deficits, therefore government spending should be efficient and accompanied by proper project management that will ensure money is invested in projects that could justify the financial investment through high returns.
“A rush to implement projects under the stimulus package is unlikely to see these fundamental issues addressed. It is essential that a focus on additional short-term spending does not distract attention from the need for fundamental structural reforms that will addresses competitiveness and productivity issues, which are essential for sustainable long-term growth and job creation,” advised Econsult.
In another report that corroborates Econsult’s dim view on Botswana’s growth prospects, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has painted a gloomy picture of weaker growth in Sub Saharan countries, including Botswana. Through their latest Regional Economic Outlook, titled Dealing with the Gathering Clouds, the IMF said growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has weakened markedly, and is now expected at 3.75 percent this year and 4.25 percent in 2016, from 5 percent in 2014.
“Of the three factors that have underpinned the region’s solid performance of the last decade or so—a much improved business and macroeconomic environment, high commodity prices, and highly accommodative global financial conditions — the latter two have become far less supportive. As a result, while activity remains more solid than in many other developing and emerging regions of the world, the strong growth momentum evident in the region in recent years has dissipated,” read part of the report.
The report goes on to note considerable variations across the region, with the region’s low-income countries experiencing growth due to ongoing infrastructure investment and solid private consumption. In contrast, the hardest hit has been on the region’s eight oil exporters — which together account for about half of the region’s GDP and include the largest producers, Nigeria and Angola — as falling export incomes and resulting sharp fiscal adjustments is taking their toll on activity.
The IMF warns that the situation could get worse before it gets better therefore a need for some fiscal and monetary policy adjustments. On the fiscal policy side, some countries might find it difficult to manoeuvre as they try to stimulate economy due to lack of access to cheaper capital. On the monetary policy front, IMF suggests that countries whose currency is not pegged should allow for the exchange rate depreciation to absorb the shock caused by decline in trade.
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Grit divests from Letlole La Rona
Grit Services Limited, a member of the pan African real estate group, London Stock Exchange listed Grit Real Estate Income Group is divesting from Letlole La Rona Limited (LLR), a local real estate company established by government investment arm Botswana Development Corporation over a decade ago.
The Board of Directors of Letlole La Rona Limited this week announced in a statement to Unitholders that Grit Services Limited (‘Grit’) has informed them of its intention to exit its investment in the company.
Grit has been a material shareholder in LLR since 2019. On 07 March 2023, Grit sold 6 421 000 linked units, representing 2.29% of the Company’s total securities in issue, at a market value of BWP 22 537 710.
This trade follows previous sales of 6.79% in December 2022, as communicated to Unitholders on 10 January 2023, as well as a further sale of 4.78% (representing 13 347 068 linked units) on 24 February 2023 to various shareholders.
In aggregate, Grit has sold 13.9% shareholding in the Letlole La Rona between December 2022 and March 2023, resulting in current shareholding of 11.25% in the Company.
Letlole La Rona said in the statement that the exit process will take place in an orderly manner so as to maintain stability of the Company’s share price.
The statement explained that Grit’s sale of its entire shareholding in LLR is in line with its decision to exit investments where it does not have majority control, or where it has significant exposure to currencies other than US dollar, Euro or hard-currency-pegged revenue streams.
“Grit has announced similar decisions pertaining to certain of its hospitality assets in Mauritius recently. The Company would like to advise Unitholders that it remains focused on long-term value delivery to all stakeholders” LLR said
In July last year as part of their Go-to-Africa strategy Letlole La Rona acquired an initial 30% equity stake in Orbit Africa Logistics, with an option to increase this investment to 50%. OAL is a special purpose vehicle incorporated in Mauritius, owning an industrial asset in a prime industrial node in Nairobi, Kenya.
The co-investment was done alongside a wholly owned subsidiary of London listed Grit. The Orbit facility is situated on a prime industrial site on Mombasa Road, the principal route south of Nairobi center, serving the main industrial node, the port of Mombasa and the industrial town of Athi River and is strategically located 11 kilometers south of the international airport and 9.6 kilometers from the Inland Container Depot.
Grit shareholding in Letlole La Rona was seen as strategic for LLR, for the company to leverage on Grit’s already existing continental presence and expand its wings beyond Botswana borders as already delivered by Kenya transaction.
Media reports have however suggested that LLR and Grit have since late last year had fundamental disagreements on how to go about the Go-to-Africa strategy amongst other things, fuelled by alleged Botswana government interference on the affairs of LLR.
Government through LLR founding shareholder – Botswana Development Corporation has a controlling stake of around 40 percent in the company. Government is the sole shareholder of Botswana Development Corporation.
Letlole La Rona recently released their financial results for the six months ended December 2022, revenue increased by 4% to P50.2 million from P48.4 million in the prior comparative six months, whilst operating profit was up 8% to P36.5 million. Profit before tax of P49.7 million was reported, an increase of 8% on the prior comparative six months.
“We are encouraged by the strong results, notwithstanding a challenging economic environment. Our performance was mainly underpinned by annual lease escalations, our quality tenant base and below average market vacancy levels, especially in our warehouse portfolio,” Kamogelo Mowaneng, Letlole La Rona Chief Executive Officer commented.
LLR reported a weighted average lease expiry period of 3.3 years and escalation rates averaging 6.8% per annum for the period ended 31 December 2022.Its investment portfolio value increased by 14% year-on-year to close the period at P1.4 billion, mainly driven by the acquisition of a 30% stake in OAL in July 2022.
The Company also recorded a significant increase in other income, predominantly due to foreign exchange gains on the OAL shareholder loan. “We continue to explore pipeline opportunities locally, and regionally in line with our Go-to-Africa strategy and our interest remains on value-accretive investments,” Mowaneng said.
An interim distribution of 9.11 thebe per linked unit was declared on the 6th of February 2023 for the half-year period to 31 December 2022, comprising of a dividend of 0.05 thebe and debenture interest of 9.06 thebe per linked unit which will be paid to linked unit holders registered in the books of the Company at the close of business on 24 February 2023.
Stargems Group establishes Training Center in BW
Internationally-acclaimed diamond manufacturing company StarGems Group has established the Stargems Diamond Training Center which will be providing specialized training in diamond manufacturing and evaluation.
The Stargems Diamond Training Institute is located at the Stargems Group Botswana Unit in Gaborone.
“In accordance with the National Human Resource Development Strategy (NHRDS) which holds the principle that through education and skills development as well as the strategic alignment between national ambitions and individual capabilities, Botswana will become a prosperous, productive and innovative nation due to the quality and efficacy of its citizenry. The Training Centre will provide a range of modules in theory and in practice; from rough diamond evaluation to diamond grading and polishing for Batswana, at no cost for eight weeks. The internationally- recognized certificate offered in partnership with Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Training School presents invaluable opportunities for Batswana to access in the diamond industry locally and internationally. The initiative is an extension of our Corporate Social Investment to the community in which we operate,” said Vishal Shah, Stargems Group Managing Director, during the launch of the Stargems Diamond Training Center.
In order to participate in this rare opportunity, interested candidates are invited to submit a police clearance certificate and a BGCSE certificate only to the Stargems offices. Students who excel in these programs will have the chance to be onboarded by the Stargems Group. This serves as motivation for them to go through this training with a high level of seriousness.
“Community empowerment is one of our CSR principles. We believe that businesses can only thrive when their communities are well taken of. We are hoping that our presence will be impactful to various communities and economies. In the six countries that we are operating in, we have contributed through dedicating 10% of our revenues during COVID-19 to facilitate education, donating to hospitals and also to NGOs committed to supporting women and children living with HIV. One key issue that we are targeting in Botswana is the rate of unemployment amongst the youth. We are looking forward to working closely with the government and other relevant authorities to curb unemployment,” said Shah.
Currently, Stargems Group has employed 117 Batswana and they are looking forward to growing the numbers to 500 as the company grows. Majority of the employees will be graduates from the Stargems Diamond Training Center. This initiation has been received with open arms by the general public and stakeholders. During the launch, the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Honorable Lefoko Moagi, stated that the ministry fully endorses Stargems Diamond Training and will work closely with the Group to support and grow the initiative.
“As a ministry, we see this as an game changer that is aligned with one of the United Nations’ Six Priority Sustainable Development Goals, which is to Advance Opportunity and Impact for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). What Stargems Group is launching today will have a huge impact on the creation of employment in Botswana. An economy’s productivity rises as the number of educated workers increases as its skilled workmanship increases. It is not a secret that low skills perpetuate poverty and widen the inequality gap, therefore the development of skills has the potential to contribute significantly to structural transformation and economic growth by enhancing employability and helping the country become more competitive. We are grateful to see the emergence of industry players such as Stargems Group who have strived to create such opportunities that mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 on the economy,” said the Minister of Minerals and Energy.