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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

KBL shut down operations indefinitely

20th January 2021
KBL

Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) has suspended its operations indefinitely owing to the tough trading conditions occasioned Government decision to ban the sale of alcohol at the beginning of this month.

The brewer announced the decision today (Wednesday). KBL Corporate Affairs Manager Madisa said from the 25th January 2021 only a minimal number of critical roles will continue to be staffed and all other operational activity will stop.

KBL also acknowledged the impact this will have on the overall supply chain and those whose livelihoods depend on the beer industry and requests their understanding.

The current ban is expected to end on 31st January 2021, KBL said should the ban be extended past this date, suspension of its operations will continue.

KBL explained that its Tuesday meeting with suppliers was to align with them that due to the current situation, the brewer will suspend payments as of 6th February 2021, up for review pending the outcome of the current alcohol ban.

“However, it is regrettable that this latest total ban on alcohol sales has resulted in the suspension of KBL’s operations, which will remain in place for as long as the alcohol ban persists. KBL continues its efforts to engage government on this critical issue, which is having an enormous impact on the industry and its extensive value chain,” said Madisa.

On Tuesday afternoon, KBL conducted an ‘emergency meeting’ with its suppliers addressing some business decisions the company has made amid the current alcohol ban. Botswana has several alcohol bans since the first lockdown of March.

Mostly alcohol has been banned as a measure of curtailing the spread of Covid-19 and government then lived with putting stringiest operating hours for alcohol sales and distribution for a long time. Next week Monday KBL will be shutting down its operations, after a two weeks ban on liquor.

Sources say ever since the 4th of January 2021 when the December curfew regulations were extended, KBL has been brewing stacks of liquor for stockpiling. This is solely the reason why the brewer decided to close shop and stop manufacturing alcohol, because KBL’s depots no longer needed supply. On Tuesday suppliers were told to stop supplying KBL as next week the plant will be closing.

Air of uncertainty was hovering in the KBL plant premises on Tuesday as many workers feared mostly for their jobs. No one knows when alcohol ban will be lifted or if Botswana is going for a hard lockdown following the recent surge of Covid-19 infections. Botswana has 18,630 coronavirus cases, with 88 deaths and 14,624 recoveries.

KBL owner Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed Sechaba Holdings came into contact with response to Covid-19 in March when Botswana recorded its first cases and that was the time when the company was doing well for years since the shedding of alcohol levy.

Sechaba associates, KBL and Coca Cola Beverages Botswana (CCBB), that time according to the holding company in its abridged financial results for the year ended 31 December 2019, continued to forecast growth in 2020 notwithstanding the challenges related to COVID-19.

Sechaba that time saw the business environment has been generally positive including relationship with stakeholders and the associates continue to manage the performance and business continuity risks.

Ten months ago the brewer underestimated the damage that can come with the pandemic and expected Covid-19 disruptions to be “temporary and the business will survive.”

That time Sechaba’s sole associate, KBL operates traditional beer breweries, alcoholic fruit beverages and a clear beer brewery.

In the period that just ended in December 2019, KBL contributed 72 percent to Sechaba’s revenues while CCBB contributed 28 percent. KBL also performed high in contribution to profit after tax with a share of 74 percent while CCBB contributed 26 percent.

Sechaba holds 49.9 percent in the local headline alcohol brewer KBL and 49.9 percent in the non-alcoholic drinks associate, CCBB. Sechaba holds 60 percent of the shares of KBL while SABMiller Botswana B.V. holds 40 percent. SABMiller Plc has management control in the operating company. The Botswana Development Corporation has a 25.6 percent shareholding in Sechaba Breweries Holdings Limited.

The glitter on the glass of KBL or Sechaba, is of December 2019 financial results which was downplayed and turned into a bearish affair in the financial results for the half year ended 30 June 2020. For those results, there was a spill in profit by Sechaba cash cow KBL by 72 percent while CCBB recorded a decline in profit by 15 percent, both and respectively in correspondence with the same period in 2019. All this downfall comes down to a loss of 60 percent of profit by the parent company. That was more than the 60 percent fall expected before the release of results.

In September during the release of the June 2020 results, Sechaba admitted that the intervention put by government since April, to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, negatively impacted its business performance and its associates, KBL and CCBB bore the full brunt. Revenue collected for KBL was lower by 37 percent while for its sister associate; CCBB, the numbers were down by 7.1 percent. This is the time when sale of alcohol was banned and manufacturing of soft drinks was not part of essential services.

Sechaba Chairman, Bafana Molomo last year said even though Covid-19 interventions would have an impact on the associates, this impact is expected to be temporary and the businesses will survive.

“However, it is advised that the situation is changing constantly and that it will be monitored closely. The Group’s associates continue to forecast growth in 2020 notwithstanding the challenges relating to Covid-19. The business environment has been generally positive, and the Group continues to enhance relationships with all stakeholders. The associates continue to manage the performance and business continuity risks,” he said.

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Business

South Afrincan 501. V2 curfew blinds 2021 prospects

20th January 2021
Machines

Lockdown is back, but now with less stringent measure of curfew restrictions, and will affect the economy whose bounce back was expected to be this year.

Economic projections saw 2021 with glimmer of hope, where all the past Covid-19 ruins will be offset by things going back to normal. An anomaly of curfew has since come to this country’s shores after the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant.

Some Botswana’s trade partners are on complete lockdown ever since the beginning of the festive season when the new variant was reported to be spreading rapidly and uncontrollably.

Measures were since put in place to tame the new high spreading and uncontrollable coronavirus variant called South African 501. V2 which was discovered in Botswana’s neighbor South Africa and the similar variant also known as E484K discovered in the UK.

After South Africa put in a curfew restriction following a response to a second wave of infections driven by a new Covid-19 variant, also called 20C/501Y.V2

President Mokgweetsi Masisi announced on national television Botswana’s first restrictions which was a curfew from 7pm to 4am from 24 December 2020 to 4 January 2021.

This month curfew regulations were extended from 8pm to 4am until end of January and many business operations were either stopped or closed earlier, hence slowing of economic activity in Botswana.

Latest data showing how business operations are being affected is not yet available. But many businesses are already crying foul and showing frustrations.

Lining of economic data with Covid-19 measures shows that at a time when there were lockdowns the economy slumped by 24 percent.

The GDP data of the second quarter of 2020, a time when Botswana got into its first lockdown amid national panic, shows that the real Gross Domestic Product contracted by 24 percent “due to the impact of measures that were put in place to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

But Botswana expected a 7.7 percent rebound and growth in 2021 from the 8.9 percent contraction forecast of last year.

This was pinned on expected improved sentiment in the global diamond industry and overall improved economic activity when the domestic economy goes back to normal.

Bank of Botswana’s Monetary Policy Committee in December last year also projected that inflation will go back to within the objective range in the second quarter of 2021.

Initially, in October last year, the central bank projected that inflation will be within 3-6 percent by the third quarter of 2021.

Two months later Bank of Botswana projections changed with the reversion to the objective range now expected to come earlier than the previous forecast as the domestic and the international economies were opening.

“Overall, risks to the inflation outlook are assessed to be balanced. Upside risks relate to the potential increase in international commodity prices beyond current forecasts, aggressive action by governments and major central banks to bolster demand, as well as possible supply constraints due to travel restrictions and lockdowns, though abating,” said Bank of Botswana last month.

When the meeting of Monetary Policy Committee which was held on 3 December 2020 decided to maintain the Bank Rate at 3.75 percent inflation had increased from 1.8 percent in September to 2.2 percent in October 2020 and remained below the lower bound of the Bank’s objective range of 3 – 6percent.

With the curfew which is place this whole month, spending or economic activity is expected to slow down and inflation will remain below the lower bound of the Bank’s objective range.

According to the last Monetary Policy Statement, the real GDP contracted by 4.2 percent in the 12 months to June 2020 compared to a growth of 3.9 percent in the corresponding period in 2019.

Mining and non-mining sectors registered a steep decline in output and this is blamed on Covid-19 containment measures.

The curfew regulation, despite being of a lesser sting than total lockdown, will have a slight or nominal impact on the domestic economy which is also affected by lockdowns in some of Botswana‘s trading partners.

Uncertainty looms on Botswana as reports continue that the 501. V2 seems to be uncontrollable and is spreading quickly in Botswana population.

While the country is on curfew restrictions, a possible lockdown looms if the disease continue to spread with this much prevalence, according to sources at government enclave.

This means the economic recovery, a rebound or leap in 2021, could remain a big pipeline dream.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had forecast the domestic economy to contract by 9.6 percent in 2020 compared to 5.4 percent in the April 2020 World Economic Outlook.

While the domestic eyes projected the economic to rebound to a growth of 7.7 percent, IMF had higher lenses of a growth of 8.6 percent in 2021. But the expected growth is set to be offset by the new elephant in the room, South African 501. V2.

The central bank and other international bodies have not ruled any chances of the pandemic remaining resilient or standing stubborn against countries, meaning possibility of future containment measures remains.

Now in Botswana a stubborn variant of the pandemic has caused panic and curfew regulations.

In December 2020, Monetary Policy Committee said: “Even with recovery in 2021, the contraction in 2020 equates, approximately, to a two-year loss of growth in output. The disparity in forecasts attest to the challenges of making forward projections when there is uncertainty about the duration of constrained economic activity, the resultant adverse impact on productive capacity, as well as the speed of resumption of production and pace of recovery in demand.”

Q3:2020 GDP decrease eases, but still remains in the negatives

The data for Q4: 2020 is yet to be released. Economic data available is the recent Q3:2020 released last month showing that real GDP for the third quarter of 2020 decreased by 6.0 percent compared to a deep contraction of 24.0 percent registered in the previous quarter.

As mentioned by Bank of Botswana in the last Monetary Policy Committee meeting of 2020 which was held in December just few weeks before the release of the Q3:2020 GDP data, the economy was expected to have performed better in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the second quarter given the gradual easing of COVID-19.

In Q3:2020 the economy tried to jump up out of the dark hole, but could move up 18 times and still remain in the fringes of economic hell. Many saw this movement as the one towards the recovery of 2021.

According to Statistics Botswana, the improvement in the third quarter GDP reflected continued efforts to reopen businesses and resume activities that were postponed or restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Moody’s already gloomy SSA report not yet infected by 501.V2

20th January 2021
Diamond

The latest report on Sub Sahara Africa (SSA) by rating agency Moody’s was prepared before the global panic of a new coronavirus variant which has already been detected in Botswana following its discovery in South Africa, the country’s major trade partner. 

Latest reports are that the new variant, now christened South African 501.V2 or E484K, was detected from the local tourism hub of Maun, and the Covid-19 task team have borrowed credence from the high rate of infections prior to the festive season as vindication of the new virus mutation being in Botswana.

The local task team is not the only one missing on full scientific data of how this new corona virus variant is in Botswana and its carriers or patients — renowned rating agency released a report on Wednesday with absence of any mention of South African 501.V2.

Moody’s made a study on “2021 outlook negative as debt costs intensify amid limited institutional capacity to adjust post pandemic.”

However, the current affairs suggest that “post pandemic” there are mutations or new variants of the virus which should be dealt with, now forcing countries like Botswana, South Africa and some in Southern Africa into coming up with curfew regulations to curb the new form of Covid-19.

The Great Pandemic seems to be here to stay in the midst of humankind if reports coming from next door South Africa about Covid-19 taking new forms to survive vaccine hence spreading uncontrollably is anything to go by.

Optimism has been brought the vaccine which is currently being rolled out, but scientific theories being conducted suggest that the new variant of Covid-19 might prove to be more resistant to vaccination.

Moody’s released a report this week on the outlook of SSA creditworthiness in 2021 which is deemed to be negative. With the new variant sweeping across Botswana and its influential trade partner South Africa, curfew regulations that are currently in place in the two countries could lead to further economic injury.

That Moody’s expectation for the fundamental conditions that will drive sovereign credit over the next 12-18 months to be severe, could be less far-reaching and short sighted given the lack of the new variant factor on the latest report.

“We expect SSA sovereigns to face severe challenges in grappling with the fallout from the coronavirus shock as lower overall economic growth and revenue coupled with higher government expenditure will lead to wider fiscal deficits and higher debt,” said Moody’s on Wednesday.

Higher debt levels, weaker debt affordability (amid both lower revenue and higher interest payments) and low buffers will challenge SSA sovereigns’ institutional capacity to manage economies, public health, budget positions, financing strategies, reserves and social discontent, thus elevating event risk.”

According to Moody’s latest report on SSA, commodity producers and tourism-dependent countries like Botswana were hit particularly hard.

Currently no tourist can come to Botswana lest they want to brave the ‘new Covid-19’, incidentally borders have been closed save for goods transportation.

The change in outlook on Botswana (A2 negative) was driven by a fall in demand for diamonds, its principal export commodity, said Moody’s. This has affected Botswana’s GDP which on the third quarter of 2020 was -6 percent, moving from -24 percent in the second quarter which mirrored all the hallmarks of an economy down spiraled by Covid-19 negative ripple effects.

Moody’s furthered its report by picking on overall growth in the SSA region to be associated with lasting impact of the economic contraction, which the rating agency said it will be greater in 2021.

“The region’s long-term recovery is more precarious given that SSA sovereigns have little fiscal space to counter the pandemic’s negative impact on economic activity and preserve productive capacity, and given that structural factors are generally less conducive to fostering a rebound in SSA than in other Emerging Markets,” said Moody’s.

Moody’s said although favourable base effects will help the recovery, real GDP growth will remain lower than historical averages in most countries. Botswana was at last given a glimmer of hope by the Moody’s report, optimism was that non-energy exporters like this country will remain the most dynamic economies, with growth driven by domestic demand and high public investment rates, and a rebound in demand for non-energy commodities.

“Public investment that addresses infrastructure gaps can raise growth both over the near and longer term. However, the impact of public investment on boosting long-term growth potential is determined in part by investment efficiency, which is generally weak in the region. Public investment efficiency is constrained by weak institutional quality, which affects project selection, appraisal and monitoring, as well as high rates of corruption, which can lead to rent-seeking and cost overruns,” said the rating agency.

Moody’s projected that Botswana will average economic growth of 6.5 percent in 2021 as a global growth recovery drives greater demand for coffee and diamonds. This is despite much uncertainty wearing on this country’s prospect of a big leap, the discovery of the new coronavirus variant believed to be at large in Botswana’s shores.

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