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The first rate cut should have been the deepest – economists

Moatlhodi Sebabole

Bank of Botswana(BoB)’s Monetary Policy Committee(MPC) decision to reduce the Bank Rate by 50 basis points (bps), from 4.75 percent to 4.25 percent was met with mixed reactions.

Former deputy governor Dr Keith Jeffries told BusinessPost this week that there is no big problem with the cut as he sees the bank taking a “cautious approach” towards monetary policy in this current situation. He told this publication that the Bank made a substantial cut and believes a deeper cut, another slash in the future, will be made if there is any dramatic inflationary change. To him the small cut was to leave a room for another, soon.

However some economists were last week not satisfied with the 50 bps cut, saying it is marginal and would not reach its intended purpose. Local economist Othata Batsetswe in an interview with this publication sees the 50 bps cut as “too marginal.”

“The impacts of COVID-19 requires a much better adjustment, maybe 100 bps. South Africa has opened up its economy stimulation much wider with cut by 100 bps, for example. The cut should be big enough to trigger borrowing in the economy especially target to sectors that can stimulate growth,” said Batsetwe.

Just before the rate cut last week, commercial banks were modest in their expectations from the central bank with regards to the cut. When they were both interviewed by BusinessPost Absa Botswana and First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) chief economists, respectively Naledi Madala and Moatlhodi Sebabole envisaged a 50 bps cut. And the central bank shed just in that margin last week.

But the reaction to the rate cut has now changed, spelling unsatifaction from some banks and economists like Batsetswe.  In their recently released MPC review FNBB wanted an even deeper cut rate, doubling its expectation, and hoping for 100 bps.

In a research seen by this publication chief economist, Moatlhodi Sebabole and Gomolemo Basele, a quantitative analyst shared that their “view” was that BoB will shed the rate by 100 basis point, meaning that FNBB wanted the cut to go from 4.75 percent to 3.75 percent. Sebabole and Basele also initially envisaged a 75 bps cut.

According to the duo’s analysis, the anchored inflation prospects and growth pressures within Botswana’s trading partners, which include South Africa, Namibia and the US, throughout 2020 have resulted in broad- based easing in these markets in the first quarter of 2020, and this also gives Botswana a knife to trim down on the rate, making a deeper cut.

“These factors provided the BoB with room to cut rates without altering real interest rate differentials from their historic averages. The local inflation profile and growth forecasts lead us to believe that the BoB can cut rates by an additional cumulative 75 bps in 2020 to take it to new historical averages of 3.5 percent for the rest of 2020,” said Sebabole and Basele.

According to the two experts, these rate cuts provide relief to existing debt cost pressures as well as stimulate some asset purchases, but structural limitations to monetary transmission will have to be addressed for a better signaling effect on economic growth indicators. Sebabole and Basele however acknowledges that the interest rate cuts will not be sufficient to address the economic disruption caused by covid-19 but will complement the fiscal efforts aimed at rescuing and stimulating the economy.

According to Basele and Sebabole, the reduction of the bank rate is in part a coordinated fiscal and monetary policy response to covid-19 as GDP estimates are now significantly lower.

“We have revised our economic growth forecast for Botswana to -10.5 percent y/y (previously 3.6percent) in 2020 – with risks to the downside due to the uncertain economic environment, which should it persist – we anticipate that growth will dip as low as -16.1 percent y/y (bear-scenario),” said their research.

FNBB economic brains explains why interest rates will remain at bottoms

According to Sebabole and Basele it should be noted that headline inflation continues to breach the central bank’s lower inflation objective of 3.00 percent, printing at 2.20 percent in March, and it will be remaining at this level for a fourth consecutive month.

Also, personal income and credit growth remained muted in the first quarter of 2020, resulting in restrained domestic inflation as group indices within the national consumer index reflected changes of less than 1.00 percent, according to the two economists.

“Core inflation was also unchanged between January and March, at 2.70% y/y, reflecting muted demand-pull pressures as household spending remains concentrated on necessities such as food, housing and utilities,” said the two.

Furthermore timid demand prospects for household consumption or dwindling consumer confidence will also keep inflation contained in 2020, FNBB said. This means, according to the bank’s experts, coupled with lower fuel prices which will come as a blessing for the transport index in sustaining low inflationary levels.

“The lower South African inflation outlook and a weaker rand also means limited FX inflation pass-through – while risks to the upside remain negligible. These factors inform our view for inflation to average 2.20 percent this year – with a trough anticipated at 1.68 percent by the first quarter of 2020,” according to Sebabole and Basele.

Sebabole and Basele in their research expect credit growth to remain dwarfed, and to remain below 7 percent in the next two year. Mostly household will bear the brunt of this subdued two year credit growth, they said. According to the two, household demand is expected to be low and below 4 percent and this will not be enough to light up demand-push pressures to inflation.

Sebabole and Basele argued that the postponement of the 2020/21 public workers salary wages by government will further affect household growth to consumption and output. According to the two the increment could have relieved some pressure on disposable income levels.

There will also be the slow growth in personal incomes across the employment workforce as well as minimal employment growth and all these will limit the extent of growth to consumption and output.

“The below-trend GDP growth patterns, stubbornly low inflation dynamics and subdued demand and output prospects all point to our fundamental view that the bank rate will trend lower in the short- to medium-term. It is our view that the bank rate will trend lower to 3.50 percent in 2020 (now at 4.25n percent) – with further cuts anticipated in the next few months,” said the FNBB duo.

BoB on downward crawl adjustment of 2.87 %

Another significant decision that BoB took last week would be the reduction of the primary reserve rate from 5.00 percent to 2.50 percent to inject an additional P1.6 billion excess liquidity in to the market, and an adjustment of the Pula crawl further downwards to 2.87 percent.

But FNBB is not that satisfied by those adjustments. The bank’s researchers said while the fundamentals provide an impetus for further rate cuts, they note that those cuts would have little to no impact on the pula outlook. This is because, according to Sebabole and Basele, as the currency regime is a pegged currency with a crawl and thus does not react in a similar way to freely floating currencies.

“The pula is pegged 45 percent to the rand and 55 percent to the IMF SDR and BoB recently indicated that the crawl has been adjusted further to a downward crawl of 2.78 percent p.a. effective May 2020 from a downward crawl of 1.51 percent p.a. which was announced in January 2020.

In our view, this adjustment to the crawl makes little difference to the pula outlook nor does it affect our view on the bank rate – the pula will be 3.17 percent weaker at the end of 2020 (from 1.81 percent weaker, which we estimated at the crawl adjustment in January) than it would have otherwise been –a difference that can be seen in a single day’s trading for volatile and free-floating currencies in the pula peg like the rand,” said the two experts.

The two however acknowledged that the crawl adjustment pushes up our fair-value estimates on yields by around 1.36 percent across the curve and could result in slight increase to inflation. They said that the pula will remain mostly a function of the rand and the US dollar, therefore the pula outlook will not be a main consideration in the decision to cut rates.

“The rand’s weight in the basket has been reducing in the past years – however, it remains the dominant determinant of the pula outlook. This is because the rand accounts for around 80 percent of USD/BWP volatility – evident even in the almost perfectly correlated USD/BWP and USD/ZAR, which shows the extent of the influence of the rand on the pula,” FNBB researchers said.

Business

Slight growth in GDP as economy battles return

28th July 2021
Peggy-Serame

Botswana’s economy showed slight growth signs in the first quarter of 2021, following a devastating year in 2020.

During 2020, the entire second quarter was on zero economic activity as the country went on total lockdown in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Diamond trade plummeted to record low levels as global travel restrictions halted movement of both goods and people and muted trade.

The end result was a significant decline for the local economy, at an estimated 7 percent contraction, just marginally below the 2008/09 global financial crises.

According to figures released by Statics Botswana this week, the country’s nominal Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of 2021 was P47.739 billion compared to a revised P45.630 billion registered during the previous quarter.

This represents a quarterly increase of 4.6 percent in nominal terms between the two periods.

During the quarter, Public Administration and Defence became the major contributor to GDP by 18.4 percent, followed by Wholesale & Retail by 11.4 percent. The contribution of other sectors was below 6.0 percent, with Water and Electricity Supply being the lowest at 1.6 percent.

Real GDP for the first quarter of 2021 increased by 0.7 percent compared to a contraction of 4.6 percent registered in the previous quarter.

The improvement in the first quarter 2021 GDP reflected continued efforts to reopen businesses and resume activities that were postponed or restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The real GDP increased by 0.7 percent during the period under review, compared to an increase of 1.2 percent in the same quarter of 2020.

The recovery in the domestic economy was observed across majority of industries except Accommodation & Food Services, Mining & Quarrying, Manufacturing, Construction, Other Services and Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing.

The overall slow performance of the economy was mainly due to the impact of measures that were put in place to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Non-mining GDP increased by 4.1 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 4.0 percent increase registered in the same quarter of the previous year.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing industry decreased by 2.0 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, relative to a contraction of 5.2 percent registered during the same quarter of 2020.

The main driver of the unfavorable performance stems from a decrease in real value added of Livestock farming by 3.0 percent.

Mining and Quarrying registered a decrease 11.4 percent in the real value added, this was mainly influenced by the drop in the Gold and Diamond real value added by 17.5 and 12.5 percent respectively.

Diamond production in carats went down by 12.1 percent while the tonnage of Gold produced went down by 17.5 percent.

The poor performance of the diamond sub-industry is attributed to the reduction in production due to a lower grade feed to the plant at Orapa in response to heavy rainfall and operational issues, including continued power supply disruptions.

With regard to Gold is due to diminishing resource base which affect production.

The Manufacturing industry recorded a decline of 7.4 percent in real value added during the first quarter of 2021, compared to a decrease of 2.3 percent registered in the corresponding quarter of 2020.

The deep low performance in the industry is observed in the two major sub-industries of Beverages & tobacco and Diamond cutting, polishing and setting by 57.0 and 38.5 percent respectively.

The reduction in Beverages is attributed to alcohol sale ban imposed during the quarter under review in order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. On the other hand, exports of polished diamonds went down by 24.9 percent compared to a decrease of 11.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year.

The construction industry recorded a decline of 4.8 percent compared to an increase of 4.3 percent realized in the corresponding quarter in 2020.

This industry comprises of buildings construction, civil engineering and specialized construction activities. The industry is still showing signs of the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. The industry recorded a negative growth of 7.4 percent in the previous quarter.

Water and Electricity Water and Electricity value added at constant 2016 prices for the first quarter of 2021 was P506.2 million compared to P378.2 million registered in the same quarter of 2020, recording a growth of 33.8 percent.

In the first quarter of 2021, Electricity recorded a significant growth of 62.4 percent compared to a decrease of 67.6 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter of 2020.

The local electricity production increased by 22.4 percent while Electricity imports decreased by 33.3 percent during quarter under review. The water industry recorded a value added of P231.3 million compared to P209.0 million registered in the same quarter of the previous year, registering an increase of 10.7 percent.

Wholesale and Retail Trade real value added increased by 11.4 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to an increase of 5.5 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The industry deals with sales of fast moving consumer goods.

Diamond Traders recorded a significant growth of 112.7 percent as opposed to a decline of 22.7 percent recorded in the corresponding quarter last year. The positive growth is due to improved demand of diamonds from the global market.

The Transport and Storage value added increased by 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to a 2.4 percent increase recorded in the same quarter of the previous year.

The slight improved performance of the industry was mainly attributed to the increase in real value added of Road Transport and Post & Courier Services by 4.3 and 2.1 percent respectively.

The slow growth was influenced by a significant reduction in Air Transport services of 69.7 percent due to reduced number of passengers carried. Rail goods traffic in tonnes went down by 6.4 percent and passenger rail transport was not operating during the quarter under review.

Accommodation and Food Services Accommodation and Food Services real value added declined by 31.7 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to a decrease of 4.4 percent registered in the same quarter of the previous year. The reduction is largely attributed to a decrease of 42.1 percent in real value added of the Accommodation activities subindustry.

The suspension of air travel occasioned by Covid-19 containment measures impacted on the number of tourists entering the borders of the country and hence affecting the output of Hotels and Restaurants industry. COVID-19 restriction measures resulted in reduced demand for leisure and conferencing activities, as conferences are largely held through virtual platforms.

Finance, Insurance and Pension Funding industry registered a positive growth of 8.3 percent due to the favorable performance from monetary intermediation and Central Banking Services by 16.4 and 5.4 percent respectively during quarter under review.

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Business

Chobe Holdings secures P16 million for dark days

28th July 2021
Chobe Holdings

It is still tough in the tourism industry — big players in this sleeping giant are not having it easy, but options are being explored to keep the once vibrant multibillion Pula sector alive until the world gets back to normalcy.

One of the primary measures against the spread of Covid-19 is to stay home; this widely pronounced precaution against the global contagion that has claimed over 4 million lives across the world is however a thorn in the flesh of one of the major industries in the global economy — the tourism sector .

This sector is underpinned by travel – an act which is the virus‘ number one mode of spread, especially across borders.

Chobe Holdings Limited, one of Botswana’s leading high end eco-tourism giants said its survival strategies are underpinned by well-crafted stakeholder engagements in the mist of these unprecedented times of muted trading activity.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Chobe continued to invest in and strengthen its relationships with key stakeholders in both its traditional markets and the SADC region,” the company directors updated shareholders this week.

To keep the business afloat, the company which owns and operates some of the exquisite tourism destinations along the banks of the mighty Chobe said it has triggered its existing available debt financing avenues.

Chobe revealed that its current overdraft of BWP 25 million has been extended on favourable terms.

The company shared that it has negotiated a further USD 1.5 million (over P16 million) standby loan with a flexible settlement terms and preferable cost implications to the bottom line.

“We are confident that the Group has sufficient cash inflows, cash reserves and un-utilized prearranged borrowing in place to settle any liabilities falling due and support the smooth recovery of operations in the short and medium term,” the company directors said, noting that they will retain the flexibility to vary operations should market conditions change.

Early this year, Chobe announced that the ongoing crisis in the tourism industry forced the company to draw from its prearranged overdraft facility of P25 million to the extent of P11.6 million.

Last year Chobe’s occupancy levels around its lodges and hotels went down 89 percent. This resulted in unprecedented revenue decline of 93% to P27.78 million from the P373.94 million in the previous year ended February 2020.

Operating profits went down 159% with profit after tax down 170%, mirroring a loss of over P67 million.

Chobe management said during the last half of the financial year they have done all they could to contain costs across the company’s operations.

During the last half of the year Chobe’s marketing and reservations teams continued to pursue the “don’t cancel but defer policy”.

“We thus continue to hold advance travel receipts, to the value of about P34 million at the financial year end,” the company revealed early this year.

Chobe said it continues to engage Government, through HATAB and BTO to prioritize the vaccination of workers in the tourism sector.

“Throughout the pandemic we have ensured that employees are trained in and comply with COVID-19 infection mitigation protocols as well as ensuring that all visitors to our remote camps and lodges as well as our staff and contractors are tested for COVID-19 before reaching the camp or lodges,” the company said.

However, the company said vaccinating the tourism staff will provide the best way to ensure that both employees and guests are protected from the virus.

“We continue to manage our cashflow through stringent cost control measures, balanced against the protection of the Group’s physical assets and the wellbeing and retention of its people,” the company said.

Chobe has successfully retained its top management through the pandemic.  To this end the company directors continue to closely monitor the Group’s recovery from COVID-19 and adjust salary reductions to support operations and aid retention.

Domestic and regional travel resumed during the second quarter of the 2020/21 financial year with the Group opening a strategic mix of camps and lodges.

A comprehensive domestic, regional and international marketing plan was put in place to support these openings.

International travel resumed in the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year with occupancies forecast to steadily increase, albeit from a low base, through the second quarter.

The company is optimistic that forward bookings are strong for the 2022/23 financial year.

“There is pent-up demand from our traditional source markets to travel now, but this is tempered by uncertainty and access constraints,” the company stated.

“Both the domestic and international markets are sensitive to such uncertainty, and it is critical that both the private and public sector work together to develop and publish clear, authoritative and consistent travel information in order to build confidence”

Chobe entered the pandemic with the Shinde camp rebuild in progress — one of its high end camps and this was completed in the first half of the 2020/21 financial year accounting for the majority of the Group’s capital expenditure for that period.

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Business

De Beers Q2 production jumps in response to strong rough diamond demand

28th July 2021
De-Beers -jwaneng-mine

De Beers Group, the world’s leading rough diamonds producer by value and Botswana’s partner in the diamond business, ramped up its production in the second quarter of 2021, in response to stronger demand for rough diamonds in the global markets.

The London headquartered diamond mining giant revealed in its production report this week that rough diamonds output  increased by 134% to 8.2 million carats in the three(3) months  of quarter 2 2021, “reflecting planned higher production to meet stronger demand for rough diamonds”.

This was against the backdrop of curtailed demand in the same quarter last year, mirroring the impact of Covid-19 lockdowns across southern Africa during that period.

In Botswana, where De Beers sources majority of its rough diamonds through partly government owned Debswana, production increased by 214% to 5.7 million carats. The percentage jump mirrored planned low production in the second quarter of 2020 where output was adjusted to market demands and implemented Covid-19 protocols.

Debswana operates four (4) Mines: Jwaneng Mine- being its flagship producer and largest revenue contributor. Jwaneng Mine which is the wealthiest diamond mine in the world by value is envisaged for multi-billion expansion to an underground operation in future to stretch its existence by few more decades.

The underground project which is anticipated to cost a whooping P65 billion will be the world‘s largest underground diamond mine.

The company which accounts for over 65 % of De Beers’s global production also operates Orapa Mine- one of the world’s largest by area, Letlhakane Mine currently a tailings treatment operation and Damtshaa Mine which is under care and maintenance following market shrink in 2020.

Namibia production decreased by 6% to 0.3 million carats, primarily due to planned maintenance of the Mafuta vessel which was completed in the quarter and another vessel remaining demobilized.  In Namibia De Beers sources diamonds both in land and marine through Namdeb and Debmarine respectfully.

In South Africa-the spiritual home ground of De Beers Group, production increased by 130% to 1.3 million carats, due to planned treatment of higher grade ore from the final cut of the Venetia open pit, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown in Q2 2020.

Production in Canada increased by 14% to 0.9 million carats, primarily reflecting the impact of the Covid-19 measures implemented in Q2 2020.

De Beers said consumer demand for polished diamonds continued to recover, leading to strong demand for rough diamonds from midstream cutting and polishing centers, despite the impact on capacity from the severe Covid-19 wave in India during April and May.

Rough diamond sales totaled 7.3 million carats (6.5 million carats on a consolidated basis), from two Sights, reflecting the impact of the reduced Indian midstream capacity on Sight 4, compared with 0.3 million carats (0.2 million carats on a consolidated basis) from two Sights in Q2 2020, and 13.5 million carats (12.7 million carats on a consolidated basis) from three Sights in Q1 2021.

The H1 2021 consolidated average realized price increased by 13% to $135/ct (H1 2020: $119/ct), driven by an increased proportion of higher value rough diamonds sold.

While the average price index remained broadly flat, the closing index increased by 14% compared to the start of 2021, reflecting tightness in inventories across the diamond value chain as well as positive consumer demand for polished diamonds.

Full Year Guidance Production guidance is tightened to 32–33 million carats (previously 32-34 million carats (100% bases)), subject to trading conditions and the extent of any further Covid-19 related disruptions.

When commenting to 2021 quarter 2 production figures, Mark Cutifani, Chief Executive of Anglo American- De Beers parent, said the entire Anglo American Group delivered a solid operational performance supported by comprehensive Covid-19 measures to help safeguard the lives and livelihoods of its workforce and host communities.

“We have generally maintained operating levels at approximately 95% of normal capacity and, as a consequence, production increased by 20% compared to Q2 of last year, with planned higher rough diamond production at De Beers” he said.

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