In 2019 the diamond industry, which is Botswana‘s economic nucleus, suffered a blow, much of which was heightened by global uncertainty and weaker sentiment — weighing down on rough diamonds demand.
The ripple effect of reduced growth in Mining GDP spilled over into other sectors of the economy. According to information contained in Bank of Botswana‘s Monetary Policy Statement released this week, non-mining GDP grew by 4 percent during the 12 month period ended September 2019 from 5.1 percent in the corresponding period in 2018.
This lower growth in non-mining GDP according to the Central Bank was largely due to slower expansion in the trade, hotels and restaurants sector, mainly attributable to a contraction of 9.2 percent in the wholesale sub-sector, associated with weaker performance of the diamond cutting and polishing firms in Botswana. Botswana’s emerging diamond cutting and polishing firms have for years struggled against constrained access to credit facilities, high production costs and a shortage of skilled workers.
In 2018 Botswana Finance LLC, a subsidiary of Lazare Kaplan International (LKI) signed a $125 million loan guaranty with Stanbic Bank Botswana, a member of Standard Bank Group and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a United States Government’s development finance institution. The loan guaranty was dispatched to encourage and support lending to diamond manufacturers and polishing companies while allowing the organisations to share credit risk. This was following a similar loan guaranty with then Barclays Bank Botswana (now Absa Bank Botswana) dispatched 2016.
With the support of OPIC financing, the loan guaranty was dispatched as a key instrument necessary to keep the value-adding process of the diamond supply chain in Botswana, promoting local job creation, diversifying economic growth, and bringing global trade opportunities. This week De Beers Group Chief Executive Officer, Bruce Cleaver officially opened Finestar Jewellery & Diamonds operation in Botswana. The Company is a market leader in manufacturing of Solitaire diamonds. Finestar achieved the status of Sight holders of De Beers Group in 2018.
Globally slower sales and stretched working capital continues to be a challenge in the sector’s profitability. On average, operating margins in the cutting and polishing segment contracted 2 percent to 3 percent in 2019 compared with 2018. To sustain profitability, the midstream companies cut excess capacity and shifted their focus to melee diamond production to maintain factory utilisation and minimise working capital.
The decline of rough diamond prices exacerbated the situation, leading to stock devaluation and, in some cases, affecting financing options. Experts say in the midterm, the segment will continue to operate with significant pressure on the bottom line. Interest rates, maturity and availability of financing continued to challenge the midstream segment in 2019. Interest rates increased to match rising default risk. In 2019, cutting and polishing players needed longer-maturity loans for two reasons: growth in consignment practices increased the number of days for receivables to turn over, and inventory turnover days increased because of lower demand among certain assortment groups.
According to Brain & Company, a cutting & polishing think tank in Antwerp Belgium, said short-term pressure on the midstream could lead to long overdue restructuring and consolidation within the segment. However on a positive note, experts say even in the current situation, some companies are making money. Successful players have shifted from a supply-driven mind-set to a demand-driven model in which they make purchasing decisions in line with downstream demand. These companies also offer greater transparency, which is attractive to financing institutions and banks.
In the overall aside subdued performance of cutting and polishing firms, growth in Botswana’s non-mining sector during the 12 month period ended September 2019, was supported by transport and communications which registered 5.9 percent upswing and finance and business services which closed the period at 5.6 percent growth. However during the last quarter of the year 2019 Non Mining GDP growth was 3.1 percent significantly lower than the output growth of 4.1 percent recorded in the corresponding period in 2018.
Real GDP in Botswana grew by 3.7 percent in the twelve months to September 2019, compared to a faster expansion of 5 percent in the year to September 2018. The lower increase in output is mainly attributable to a significant deceleration in output growth of the mining sector. Mining output grew by 1.6 percent in the year to September 2019, compared to an increase of 4.1 percent in the corresponding period in 2018 as diamond output increased at a slower rate of 2.1 percent compared to 3.2 percent in the previous year.
Bank of Botswana says Botswana’s GDP is projected to expand by 4.4 percent in 2020, driven mainly by the expected recovery of mining activity and anticipated improvement in global output. The non-mining sectors are also anticipated to improve, underpinned by, among others, the accommodative monetary conditions in the domestic economy, improvements in electricity and water supply, as well as the reforms to further improve the business environment.
Non-mining GDP is expected to increase by 4.5 percent in 2020, thus below trend and weighed down mainly by the modest expansion of economic activity in major trading partners. However, risks to global economic activity are skewed to the downside and could result in a fall in global demand and commodity prices, especially for rough diamonds, dampening the domestic economic outlook.
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”