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P10 billion to slip through Botswana’s hands as Gov’t bans travel, tourism

Minister of Health and Wellness Lemogang Kwape this week took to mainstream media to announce Botswana’s preparedness against the rapidly spreading coronavirus with cases in South Africa, exceeding a hundred (100).

The most important part of Kwape’s announcement was evoking the  Public Health Act 2013, which temporarily bans travel of “All individuals coming to Botswana from the following high-risk countries will not be allowed entry; China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, USA, UK Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and India.” Furthermore the Minister announced that Batswana and residents returning from high-risk countries will be subjected to 14-day mandatory quarantine as per protocol.

Issuance of Visa at Ports of entry and all embassies is suspended with immediate effect, according to the ministry. Current visas are also canceled with immediate effect until further notice. “International travel by all government employees, parastatals and State-owned Entities is suspended with immediate effect,” said the health ministry.

Kwape’s announcement albeit met with fear, discomfort, and chagrin by many in the travel and tourism industry was guided by the Public Health Act whose mandate is to, “make the notification of certain diseases compulsory and to control such diseases; to make provision regarding diseases subject to the International Health Regulations; to prevent the spread of smallpox; to prevent the introduction of diseases into Botswana; to control advertisements and publications concerning venereal disease; to regulate sanitation and housing; to provide for the protection of foodstuffs and water supplies; to regulate the use of cemeteries, and generally to make provision for public health.”

By banning travels the ministry could have evoked Section 3 of the Act which gives the ministry functions, “to prevent and guard against the introduction of disease from outside; and to prevent or control the communicable disease.” However a temporary ban will mean Botswana is set to fall short on the fraction of the money made on travel and tourism to the GDP. Most of these countries especially China where the coronavirus outbreak was discovered last year November, are major contributors to Botswana’s travel and tourism sectors. On the other hand, South Africa which is hit by a rapidly growing number of coronavirus cases is the major trade partner of Botswana especially in the travel or business sector. Travel and tourism’s direct contribution to GDP is P10.13 billion.

Absa Botswana economist Madala told BusinessPost the outbreak of COVID-19 has dampened the outlook for the local economy as already the travel restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic complicates diamond sales, tourism and trade. She said uncertainty associated with the outbreak of COVID-19 is also likely to influence consumer and business confidence, which can potentially dent domestic spending and investment.

Cursory research already shows the negatives of COVID-19 which has spread within Botswana, affecting this country’s tourism sector. BusinessPost has seen a survey done on 361 safari tour operators just before the health ministry announced temporary travel bans. These findings have concluded that more than 86 percent of operators are experiencing a significant decline in bookings due to fear of the virus outbreak. This report was done by a safari media outlet SafariBookings with a website SafariBookings.com, which is the largest online marketplace for African safari tours.

According to the survey, a quarter of operators experienced a staggering 75 percent decrease in bookings while only 14 percent reported no decrease and for these operators it has been business as usual. It is a heavy blow for the industry and the numerous wildlife reserves that rely on its revenue. One safari operator who also owns a travel and tour company in Botswana and contributed to the survey, Kenewang Chobacho African Bush Lovers Travel & Tours Safaris, said: “So far we have four trips which have been canceled due to the virus. This is affecting us a lot.”

Jane Bettenay of Ulinda Safari Trails in Botswana said people are “shy” to send money as they are concerned they will not be able to travel. Oliver Madibela of Mosu Safari Tours said most of the clients are very sensitive about this issue (coronavirus), so it is not easy for them to confirm their bookings as they are particularly afraid to travel. However just before the ministry announced travel bans this week, Mark Hathaway of Gondwana Tours & Safaris in Botswana has been trying to preach positive information about Botswana, which has so far not registered any case.

“At the moment we are reassuring clients who ask that there have been no cases of coronavirus in the main tourist destinations in Africa. Given that many clients are coming from countries where there have been reported cases then they would be safer in Africa,” said Hathaway.
Most tourists use air transport to come to Botswana according to national statistics. Air Botswana has said it anticipates adverse impact, given its feeder status and reliance on other airlines.

There have been cancellations of major events around the world, according to Air Botswana, this paints a bleak future in the short term. “Given the depressed passenger travel patterns, the airline’s schedule has been modified to reflect the impact of the pandemic, in line with the low business activity that is currently being observed,” says Air Botswana in a recent statement.

According to World Bank, Botswana spends around P0.6 billion on travel and tourism services. The Bank says infection of coronavirus from one continent to another-one country to another- will affect trade. Global value chains are expected to suffer as they account for nearly half of global trade, according to the Bank, which further stated that this is due to global trade being disrupted by factory shutdowns and delayed resumption of operations.

That transmission is likely to occur through several channels. The first is the trade: global value chains, which account for nearly half of global trade and are being disrupted by factory shutdowns and or are delayed. Coronavirus also brings harp drops in commodity prices which will harm developing countries that rely on them for much-needed revenue. The World Bank says developing countries like Botswana are hit hard on transport and tourism, a major revenue stream for these countries. According to the Bank, transport and tourism in many developing countries are shrinking with declining demand and expanding travel restrictions.

At the beginning of this month, World Bank Group made available an initial package of up to $12 billion or P120 billion in immediate support to assist countries in coping with the health and economic impacts of the global outbreak. According to the Bank, this financing is designed to help member countries take effective action to respond to and, where possible, lessen the tragic impacts posed by COVID-19. “…What comes next will be crucial: in the coming weeks, all countries—even those without a single coronavirus patient—will need to take concrete policy steps to protect their people and limit harm to their economies,” says the World Bank.

World Bank advice President Mokweetsi Masisi and his government

To Botswana and other developing countries, there is a need to move swiftly in boosting spending on health. According to the Bank: “In many developing countries, public health systems remain weak, making their populations vulnerable to the rapid spread of the outbreak.  Governments should boost investments that strengthen these systems to enable faster treatment and containment.”

Botswana should also strengthen the safety net by making cash transfers and free medical services for the most vulnerable people available, this could help contain the outbreak and also limit its financial harm. There is also need for this country to support the private sector since all kinds of businesses are likely to be hit, according to the Bank, they would benefit from short-term credit, tax breaks, or subsidies.

According to the World Bank there should be counter financial-market disruptions where central banks in developing countries like Bank of Botswana —particularly those that are sensitive to bouts of risk aversion—should stand ready to react to disorderly financial market movements. Also, Bank of Botswana may need to lower interest rates and inject liquidity to restore financial stability and boost growth, according to the World Bank.

Business

BTC profits rise to P832million

14th September 2021
BTC MD Masunga

This week, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL), the country’s only listed telecoms company, released its annual report for the financial year ended 31st March 2021.

The company, listed on the local bourse in a historic IPO in 2016, has been grappling with the uphill task of transforming from a wholly state-owned organisation to a fully commercial publicly listed entity. This excise has seen some financial years registering a decline in both revenue and profits.

On Tuesday, BTCL reported a significant rise in profits, attributable to a slight pick-up in revenue and serious cost containment measures. The beginning of the fiscal year saw the implementation of the company’s new three-year strategy, which is focused on strengthening the core business, optimising efficiencies and return on assets, and pursuing growth opportunities.

The start of the financial year coincided with the implementation of the national measures to contain the COVID-19 virus, leading to national lockdowns, which placed pressure on the BTCL performance for the first half of the year. “However, we have since seen a decent recovery in our financial performance year-on-year,” said BTCL Managing Director Anthony Masunga

BTCL Group, which comprises among other business segments: mobile, fixed and broadband, has reported revenue of P1.43 billion, which is a 1% increase over the prior year. According to BTCL directors, this increase in revenue was driven by the monetisation of significant investments in fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure in support of high-speed internet service at homes and offices across most parts of the country.

“We delivered a strong double-digit growth in profit after tax of 16% when compared with the prior year, driven by the slight increase in revenue and robust cost reduction strategies that improved EBITDA to P463 million, leading to an increase in cash,” Masunga explained. Cash and cash equivalents significantly increased by 20.4%, from P120 million in the prior year to P364 million at the end of March 2021.

The increase was driven by a positive cash conversion ratio of 52% and favourable working capital resulting from debt collection measures during the year. Masunga explained that the healthy cash balance enabled the BTCL to finance further expansion of its mobile data network and replace traditional copper connections with fibre to better support the needs of its customers.

“The uptake of our data products has been growing steadily, with the improving quality of service leading to increased revenues even as voice revenues declined,” he said. The cost of services and goods sold reduced by 3% from P612 million to P594 million when compared to the previous year, leading to an increase in gross profit for the year by 3%, an increase of P27 million to P832 million, translating to an improvement in gross profit margin from 57% to 58%.

Despite the increase in the top line, which would have led to a rise in the cost base, the Group Continued with its robust cost containment measures, leading to a slight increase in all other operating costs by P3 million. The control of costs led to an overall increase in the earnings before interest, depreciation, taxation and amortisation (EBIDTA) by P55 million, with a margin expansion of 370 basis points compared to the previous year.

The operating margin increased by 2% to 13%, coming from the earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to P186 million, a P24 million increase compared to the prior-year figure of P163 million.
Net interest increased significantly, driven by the new accounting treatment of the IRU liability. All the above led to an overall increase in the profit before tax of P27 million, which increased to reportable gain to P166 million.

The Group ended the year with a P135 million profit after tax compared to P117 million for the same period last year with a tax expense of P31 million in the current year, which is higher when compared to the P22 million reported in 2020. Therefore, the Group delivered an impressive 16% increase year-on-year with a 9% net profit margin, compared to 8% in the prior year.

BTCL continues to dominate the fixed-line business despite a continued reduction in the demand for fixed lines globally and locally. Trends continue to show an increased shift of consumer preference to mobile communications, a direction according to Anthony Masunga is due to his company’s “increased flexibility, convenience, and innovation.’

BTCL’s mobile phone market also continued to grow during the year, with many consumers owning multiple SIM cards from the three mobile network operators. Smega, BTC’s Mobile Money Services, saw significant growth in subscriptions during the year, and we expect to attract more customers as the Group continues the Visa card rollout.

Masunga boasted that Smega could interact with traditional banking systems, offering more convenience to BTCL customers. “The platform supports greater financial inclusion for the country’s sizeable unbanked population,” he said. BTC Board Chair Lorato Ntakhwana said that in the future, the 51 percent government-owned telecom giant will bank on its new 3-year strategy for growth paths.

She revealed that the new strategy would build on the great foundation set by its predecessor, enabling BTC to reap the full benefits of its digital infrastructure investment to drive the growth of the business.

Ntakhwana explained that the digital transformation of the business underpins the strategy to realise enhanced efficiencies and continue to maximise the utilisation of its technologies. “We remain committed to transforming BTC into a digital services company, leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution to create maximum shareholder value. We see technology and digitisation as a vehicle to the provision of solutions to the nation’s challenges,” she said.

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Business

FNBB’s profit after tax down 2%

14th September 2021
FNBB CEO - Steven Bogatsu

First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) has released its audited summarised consolidated financial statement for the year ended 30 June 2021. According to the statement, the balance sheet reduced by 6% year-on-year primarily due to declining gross advances to customers. Credit risk remained heightened amid the prevalent economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bank said it continued to apply a prudent approach to lending to ensure responsible and manageable consumer exposure, which resulted in a decline in gross customer advances by 7% while gross market advances increased by 4%.

Retail advances experienced a sharp decline of 7%, while the Botswana retail market increased by 9%. According to the bank’s financial statement, the decline was driven by competitive pressures, with the market extending loan tenures, resulting in increased market debt. However, the bank maintained its existing affordability criteria and a selective approach to retail exposure.

The corporate segment experienced remarkable growth of 19% year on year. In comparison, the commercial advances portfolio reduced 19% because of a cautious lending risk appetite, a reduction in the Non-Performing Loans (NPL) and the overall lack of growth in the market.

The combined result of FNBB’s commercial and corporate advances was a decline of 7% against the overall comparable decrease of 3% in the market. While actively looking for the opportunities arising out of the anticipated recovery pattern, the bank said it would continue to be cautious in maintaining the quality of its credit book.

NPLs, according to FNBB financial declined by 11% year-on-year from P1.2 billion to P1.09 billion, resulting in a NPL/gross advances ratio of 7.3% as of 30 June 2021. FNBB stressed that reduction in NPL was primarily due to a recoverability assessment of long-outstanding NPL loans resulting in the write-off of irrecoverable loans. The closing provision levels remain appropriate.

The June 2020 deposit portfolio experienced significant growth following the reduced spending commensurate with the lockdown restrictions and deferred capital expenditure cycles by corporates. In the June 2021 results, deposits declined from P23.2bn to P21.4bn (8% decline), driven by an increase in activity following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the normalisation of the market liquidity.

Investment securities declined by 17% year-on-year following the normalisation of market liquidity to pre COVID-19 levels. The decline was driven by the drop in short term assets at the back of the decrease in demand deposits.

FNBB indicated that it had demonstrated a resilient performance amid COVID-19 uncertainty shown by maintaining the profit before tax despite the significant reduction in the Bank Rate. This was underpinned by the normalisation of credit losses and a resilient non-interest revenue (NIR) base. Return on equity of 18.2% (2020: 20.1%) has declined due to the conservative level of capital held over the financial year, as well as the 2% reduction in profit after tax.

The past year has presented itself as a real and severe economic test, and FNBB has shown that its income streams are resilient while a critical focus has been on strengthening the balance sheet. A decrease of 15% in interest income was driven by the reduction in the Bank Rate, the decline in the advances book, and a change in the advances portfolio mix.

This was further driven by the fall in the cash and investment portfolio interest income due to the reduction in risk-free rates and lower yields across investment securities for a portion of the year. Interest expense decreased 22% following an 8% decrease in deposits and the Bank Rate reduction. The deposit mix shifted from overnight deposits to term deposits as clients sought higher yields.

Impairments declined by 43% year-on-year, driven by a 49% reduction in both Stage 1 and 2 impairments, as well as a 40% reduction in Stage 3 impairments. The stage 1 and 2 impairment decline followed a reduction in the gross advances exposure and the normalisation of impairments in June 2021.

The Stage 3 impairments decline, is attributed to a reduction in defaults over the period, with the bank has partnered with clients to help their businesses through the pandemic. The P180m reduction in impairments decreases the credit loss ratio to 1.6% (2020: 2.6%).

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Business

De Beers rough sales up

14th September 2021
rough diamonds

De Beers Group on Wednesday announced the value of rough diamond sales (Global Sightholder Sales and Auctions) for the seventh sales cycle of 2021.

Figures show continued growth in rough sales, bolstered by solid demand for polished goods in the key markets of the United States of America and China. The 2021 cycle seven rough sales clocked a provisional figure of $514 million, a slight increase from $513 million recorded in the previous cycle. The jump, however, is a significant increase when mirrored against the 2020 cycle 7 figure of $334 million.

Owing to the restrictions on the movement of people and products in various jurisdictions around the globe, De Beers Group continued to implement a more flexible approach to rough diamond sales during the seventh sales cycle of 2021, with the Sight event extended beyond its typical week-long duration.

As a result, the provisional rough diamond sales figure quoted for Cycle 7 represents the expected sales value for 23 August to 7 September. It remains subject to adjustment based on final completed sales. Commenting on the sales results Bruce Cleaver, Chief Executive Officer of De Beers Group, said sentiment in the diamond industry’s midstream continues to be positive, as reflected in the company’s sales for Sight 7.

Cleaver explained that demand for rough diamonds results from robust demand for polished diamonds in De Beers’sBeers’s key markets of the US and China. He highlighted that the midstream’s optimism for the remainder of the year was also evident at the recent JCK Las Vegas trade show, which was a success despite being held under challenging circumstances.

“As we now head towards a traditionally slower period for rough diamond sales, we remain cognisant of the risks to economic recovery from the global pandemic,” he said. De Beers impressive rough sales run is against the backdrop of performance come back in the first half of the year.

The revenue for the first six (6) months of 2021 demonstrated resilience and an impressive comeback following a devastating 2020. The more significant part of 2020, in particular, the first half of the year, was characterized by low demand across the entire diamond value chain due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countries put measures to curb the spread of the virus that broke out of China in late 2019; this came with travel restrictions that curtailed the movement of goods and people, reducing trade to record low levels. However, this year as crucial markets continue to reopen and exhibit signs of pre-covid demand levels, De Beers total revenue for the first half of 2021 increased significantly to $2.9 billion (Over P32 billion) from $1.2 billion (P13 billion), mirroring a jump of over 141%.

The growth in revenue for the first half of the year was bolstered by continued recovery in global consumer demand for diamonds, as the industry dusts itself from the impact of Covid-19, supported by fiscal stimulus in the US and the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines. Restrictions on international travel and entertainment over the pandemic resulted in higher discretionary spending on luxury goods, including diamond jewellery.

In the first six months of 2021, the cutting centres achieved strong sales of polished diamonds in response to the ongoing recovery of consumer demand. However, the severe Covid-19 wave in India during April and May reduced capacity to cut and polish operations within the critical Indian midstream sector, further exacerbated by polished diamond grading backlogs in critical markets.

The relative shortage of polished supply contributed to a positive, polished price trend in the first half of 2021. The recovery of demand in all parts of the pipeline enabled rough diamond producers to destock at the start of 2021. This robust demand, combined with supply constraints arising from production challenges, created a favourable dynamic in the first half of 2021 that supported higher rough diamond prices.

At half-year, De Beers rough diamond sales had risen to $2.6 billion from $1.0 billion in the half-year 2020, and this was driven by robust rough diamond demand as the midstream pulled through stocks in response to the recovery in consumer demand, with rough diamond sales volumes significantly higher at 19.2 million carats from 8.5 million carats in the first six (6) months of 2020.

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