Pula Fund, Botswana’s diamonds investment flagship, is currently whispering economic disaster as it is dallying down the slide with an erosion of P4 billion for March 2020 from the same period of last year.
This is according to the figures in the Bank of Botswana Statement of Financial Position as at March 31, 2020. Last year March, the Pula Fund was at P51 billion and it went down to P47 billion March this year, a deficit of P4 billion.
Pula Fund is Botswana’s long-term investment portfolio established 26 years ago for the perseverance part of the income from diamond exports for future generations. According to Bank of Botswana, foreign exchange reserves that are in excess of what is expected to be needed in the medium term are transferred to Pula Fund and invested according to these investment guidelines. The Pula Fund is a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).
In a review for this year’s first quarter, since January 2020 the Pula Fund has been showing erosion, a trend continuing even towards March 2020 as Q1:2020 closes. The central bank has just offered its financial positon for Q1:2020 and things are looking gloomy for the much coveted Pula Fund. A deficit of over P600 million in the Fund has been recorded between the months of February and March this year according to the recent Bank financial position.
Deeper statistics shows the Pula Fund went on a downward spiral last year between the months of November and December, by a deficit of almost over P10 billion. The Fund did however find its feet, bouncing up by almost P2 billion in January this year after a huge slump last year December.
But that was short lived as February saw things tumbling down again, reminiscing the negative picture of November 2019, a pictorial illustration will show a graph pointing down as a bad sign for the most reliable Fund ever made by this country. The Pula Fund reached an all-time high of P64.3 billion and a record low of P18.7 billion in April 2003.
According to Bank of Botswana, the Pula Fund has increased substantially in value (when measured in both domestic and foreign currency) in real terms since it was established in 1994. “This reflects both a sustained period of substantial balance of payments surpluses as well as the success of the investment strategy,” said the central bank.
However, according to the Bank, there have been instances of substantial outflow: notably in the period following the establishment of the Public Officers Pension Fund, which resulted in a substantial transfer of assets from Government; while, from late 2008, the turbulence arising from the worsening global economic slowdown resulted in some erosion of the Pula Fund, due to both the adverse market conditions and outflows needed to maintain the Liquidity Portfolio at required levels.
Botswana’s total foreign assets have depleted by P11.5 billion altogether between March 2019 and March 2020. According to the Bank’s financial position, by March when looking at the Liquidity Portfolio fund; Transactions Balances Tranche went down by P5 billion from March last year and the Liquidity Investment Tranche plummeted by P3 billion. However the domestic assets saw a slight improvement.
Total Foreign Liabilities soared up while foreign exchange reserves expressed in US dollars went down by over P1 billion this was almost the same decreased in foreign exchange reserves expressed in SDR.
Botswana’s economy is now grappling with the ripple effects of covid-19 and diamond contribution to the GDP and or the Pula Fund is expected to shrink. Botswana’s story cannot be told better in gloom than when Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flow will in 2020/21 reduce by 30-40 percent while trade will shrink by about 32 percent, this comes hard for a country which has years of nursing trade deficits.
A bad song in a time of a Pula Fund or diamond reliant economy, the depletion of a depleting government’s current account could be a dawn for much coming trouble. Towards the twilight of last year the government’s current account recorded a mammoth deficit of P6.6 billion compared to a revised deficit of P485 million during the corresponding period in 2018, this cannot be helped by the sting of covid-19 on the local economy. Furthermore, the end of 2019/2020 financial year, government’s total debt was P27.8 billion, roughly 28 percent of GDP.
Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Thapelo Matsheka recently announced that Botswana’s economy is expected to decline by 13.1 percent going backward against the initial projected growth of 4 percent for the 2020/21 financial year. Matsheka further told the media that due to the effect of covid-19 the global economy will shrink by 3 percent, a reverse mode to the initial expected growth of over 3 percent.
Botswana’s economic response to covid-19 amid a rocking boat of domestic economy
According to the US think tank Milken Institute, in its production of “a hub for information, analysis, and the global response to COVID-19’s impact on Africa” and in its instalment of ‘Africa Watch’, Botswana announced US$163 million which is a 0.9 percent of GDP.
Botswana’s announced healthcare spending to respond to covid-19 is US$ 41 million. The covid-19 healthcare spending as a percentage of general government total expenditure is at 0.8 percent according to Africa Watch.
Botswana not ready to become a beggar
When the economic winds are going against Botswana’s economy, which is heavily reliant on diamond exports and reserves that comes from such precious stones, many pragmatic economists point that this country should ‘swallow her pride’ and queue for aid from monetary donors.
However, Matsheka has suggested that government has so far doubled its domestic borrowing limit from P15 billion to P30 billion. Matsheka hinted that Botswana will first exhaust all the domestic borrowing before going outside.
“This bond program will present us with an opportunity to borrow more from our local capital market and finance our deficit and projects without drawing down from our reserves or getting expensive credit facilities externally,” Matsheka told journalists in April.
Matsheka also told the media that there will be no rush to approach global funders. But many economists are already discussing the pressure that may come which will inevitably present this country with no option but to seek outside help
“We have not reached any decision as to how much we would borrow externally from institutions such as International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and African Development Bank, any other funding institution or foreign country.
But my office is currently in talks with Botswana representatives at these institutions and we will look at a number of factors before coming to a decision of who we going to borrow from and how much we going to borrow,” Matsheka said in April.
Botswana has better sovereign credit ratings, this puts it in a better position for international lenders. In Moody’s Investor Services-an international rating agency and global think tank based in London-rates that Botswana has maintained the A2 long-term local and foreign currency issuer ratings. A2 rating is the sixth highest rating in Moody’s Long-term sovereign ratings. Countries rated A2 are considered to be of upper-medium grade and are subject to low credit risk.
However Botswana has been going down in renowned credit rating agency charts recently. According to Moody’s, the corona virus has only amplified Botswana‘s already risky and vulnerable economic setup.
Moody’s say Botswana’s vulnerability comes from the limited economic diversification given its heavy reliance on a single commodity for growth, exports and budget revenues, slow progress towards economic transformation, and an increasingly rigid expenditure structure in the budget.
As the complexity and volatility of the business environment has increased, the demand for improvements in the quality of financial information from investors and other decision makers has risen in tandem. Unsurprisingly therefore, the topic of changes to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) has become increasingly prevalent.
However, before delving into what these changes mean for an organization, it is perhaps useful to first provide an overview of the nature and purpose of IFRS. For anyone in the accounting or finance fields, this acronym has become a common phrase critical to any financial reporting undertaken by an organization.
International Financial Reporting Standards are developed and issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and provide guidance on how financial statements should be prepared and disclosed. They provide a framework for consistent and comparable information which ultimately helps investors, regulators and other interested parties, make decisions.
In other words, as a global standard, they provide a level playing field amongst companies for reporting financial performance. This is a matter not only of compliance, but also of corporate governance, and thus an integral part of how any financial services sector business ought to be doing business.
As an indication of the pace of change, in the last three years, over twenty new or amended accounting standards have come into effect. The insurance industry is currently in the process of implementing IFRS 17, which speaks specifically to insurance contracts, replacing its predecessor, IFRS 4. The standard will come into effect from 2023 and will significantly change the accounting process for insurance contracts and investments contracts with discretionary participation features.
This new standard has been described as the single largest change in insurance accounting for almost a generation. The standard is intended to provide a more detailed and rigorous framework for the measurement and recognition of key insurance related values and will significantly change the way in which insurer’s measure and recognize insurance liabilities, revenue and profit.
It will also change the presentation of the income statement and statement of accounting position and will require a significant number of new disclosures in the financial statements. The standard requires more detailed measurement of insurance related cash flows, introduces new methodologies for measuring and recognizing insurance contact liabilities and introduces a number of new concepts such as insurance contract margin and risk margin.
All of these changes are meant to create greater visibility of the relationship between the provisions of insurance services and the recognition of revenues and expenses relating to the provision of these services and to align the recognition of revenue and profit with non-insurance businesses.
The overarching intent of the standard is to reduce the variability of results due to differencing accounting treatments employed by various insurance entities and to improve the comparability of financial results between insurance businesses as well as between insurance and non-insurance businesses.
Stanbic Bank Botswana has hosted key clients of the Bank’s Corporate & Investment Banking (CIB) arm for a series of sector-focused webinars, themed “Economic Updates.” The purpose of the series is to provide timely insights for executives within the Bank on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy and business operations, with Stanbic Bank committed to supporting clients through this time to enable them to shape their business post COVID-19, across sectors.
There are critical sectors that have been impacted more severely than others like the Tourism & Hospitality sector, Real Estate sector, Mining and the Luxury or non-essential component of consumers, for example Diamonds. In the same vein, there are sectors that are well positioned for growth for example Healthcare, Innovation & technology, Agri-processing and Infrastructure sectors.
Said Sheperd Aisam, Head of Corporate & Investment Banking (CIB) at Stanbic Bank Botswana, “Focusing on attracting capital to the rapid development of AfCFTA goals in Botswana and onto the continent will create a more resilient marketplace in Africa and make us able to better withstand future pandemics.”
According to the most recent information of an expected 8.5% GDP decline in Botswana where most sectors will be affected and as a consequence jobs may also be at risk. There is no better time for us to focus on the silver linings and come together to address these challenges in a unified way.
This year the government has many positive initiatives in various sectors set up to stimulate the economy and to give us much needed hope such as the BECI initiative; the recently launched CEDA initiative; the incremental component of local currency bond and T-Bills to fund the budget deficits of which we are excited about.
As a Bank we have initiatives for alignment with strategic country goals and supporting our personal, Commercial and Corporate Banking clients which are available to our client base. Amongst the key aspects businesses need to ensure for continued survival are a focus on strengthening our supply chains, leading on digital client interactions and regional collaboration particularly on manufacturing, it was shared.
This is very much in line with the notion of ‘survival of the quickest” and will no doubt be about how quickly businesses can adopt and adapt to the times so that they can take benefit of some of the new opportunities now out there.
According to Mulalo Madula, an Economist for Africa Region Fixed Income and Currency Research at Standard Bank Group, the IMF projects the global economy to shrink by 3% and G10 strategists see it shrinking by 2%, with China growing by 6%. Developing economies are likely to contract by roughly between 2% and 4%, she notes.
“We expect that many countries in Europe will struggle with huge debt post COVID-19. We tend to think Botswana is in a better situation as we do not look externally for financial relief. In Botswana or Africa as a whole, because we do not exist in a vacuum, we would have been affected even if we had zero infected cases as we are all connected economically.”
Concluded Aisam, “For Botswana businesses we are here to support you, we have access to 20 direct African markets through our on the ground presence in these jurisdictions. We have learnt and are still learning and happy to share with you our deepest of insights. There is an African story of growth that beckons us and our time is now.”
A lot of economic dynamics explain that Botswana households during lockdown had less choices and options and found comfort in food despite its costs going up. The cost of food in Botswana increased by 3.60 percent in June of 2020 over the same month in the previous year, mirroring high prices from food import production.
Research shows that Botswana’s economy would bear the cost of being reliant on food imports when demand calls supply out. With the increase of food consumer price index when lockdown started in April to June (1.3) and Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages group being dominant in contributions of groups to annual inflation rate during the time of stay at homes, investment shifted on consumables goods or foodstuffs.
Investment or risk appetite of owners of food suppliers and retailers remain resilient and confident in the financial markets. This could be because consumers’ sentiment on food prices cannot change the appetite for food amidst the chaotic economic environment of Covid-19.
A higher consumer price index may affect food importing countries like Botswana whose households tend to spend a larger percentage of income on foodstuff. According to Statistics Botswana, food comes third after transport and housing in this country when it comes to weighing inside the Consumer Price Index basket.
Back to investment in consumables or products that are highly in-demand, sold quickly and affordable, the financial markets are currently responding despite the higher cost of food and its marginal increase in inflation rate.
According to a recent market analysis from a fresh stockbroker research activity spanned across a number of sectors in the market and the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) is leading the pack; “Sefalana and CA Sales, stocks claimed over half of the volumes traded and turnovers even higher.”
According to Motswedi Securities, for the week ending 17 July there was, “a welcome improvement from the 1.58mn shares that traded worth P3.83mn in the prior week.” According to Stockbrokers Botswana, putting the same period and the two FMCG stocks into context, there was a turnover amounting to P27, 4 million as 6, 3 million shares exchanged hands; Sefalana (42 percent) and CA Sales (27 percent) were the biggest contributors to turnover.
Sefalana and CA Sales invest on FMCGs or products that are highly in-demand, sold quickly, and affordable. Value chain for fast-moving consumer goods in Botswana research shows Sefalana takes a bulk of its supplies by trucks or ships as “large supplies from foreign supplies” or imports.
The supplies will then reach a wholesaler and Sefalana acts as a transporter of goods and wholesaler. Before the goods can reach consumers, Sefalana will sell it as a retailer too. CA Sales is a giant independent distribution agent and supplies most grocery chains around the country.
A curious investment appetite movement for a sector whose value chain was almost affected by country to country Covid-19 measures. Truck drivers coming from other countries to Botswana waited at the border for days before they could be tested. If they tested positive for the pandemic, they would be returned home if they are foreigners or quarantined if they are locals. This publication saw trucks which were supposed to deliver FMCGs to the country stuck at boarder gates.
But investors are still in the gamble for the stocks of FMCGs. Some simplistic observation from trade experts is that Botswana is a consumer population and despite the pull of demand to supply being skewed, people will still buy food than any other commodity.
According to the June inflation statistics, food prices went up but there was less action in inflationary consequences in other commodities. Notably, communication recorded low inflation rate, recreation and culture was at a low as well, this was because people stayed at home while transport hit the negatives as cars were packed save for few ones driven for essential services.
When making their investment past decisions, FMCGs investors could be reading the forecast notebook recorded by researchers last year of a strong consumer demand supported by positive economic growth and low inflation which will protect consumer purchasing power over the coming quarters.
That time there was “a recent increase in wages for public servants as well as increases in the minimum wage bodes well for consumer-facing companies.” But that was before Covid-19 when government was forced to withheld public servants salaries and the fiscal and IMF lowered their economic projections.
According to renowned think tank Fitch Solutions, consumer spending growth in Botswana is projected to be weaker in 2020 due to the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We have revised our forecast for real household spending growth down to 0.7% y-o-y in 2020 from a pre-Covid-19 forecast growth rate of 4.9% y-o-y,” said the think-tank recently.
Thou shall live by bread and cereal alone
Bread and cereal is the stable food in Botswana and it is shown by Botswana’s continued demand for it at higher volumes and takes the largest weight in the food consumer price index. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Botswana is a net importer of cereals, with more than 90 percent of the domestic requirements normally satisfied by imports.
According to the latest Consumer Price Index report from Statistics Botswana, the Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages group index rose by 0.5 percent, from 105.2 to 105.7 over May and June. According to Statistics Botswana, prices of bread and cereals, which have the largest weight in the food price index, increased steadily throughout 2019 and early 2020, and were estimated to be 4 percent higher year on year in June 2020.
FAO said of March 2020, prices of bread and cereals were slightly higher compared to year‑earlier levels. This increase mainly reflects the high prices of maize in South Africa, the country’s main supplier of grains. A disturbance of bread and cereal import value chains is expected to be worse for June/July statistics given the lockdown border disruptions.
Cereal imports in the 2019/20 marketing year (April/March) increased to an estimated 440 000 tonnes, over 20 percent above the previous five‑year average partly reflecting the low domestic cereal harvest in 2019, according to FAO. Maize which accounts for the largest share of cereal imports, is estimated at 265 000 tonnes.
Without imports Botswana is expected to wait for the harvest which is expected to have concluded in June according to FAO. Harvested cereals are mostly sorghum and maize. About 38 000 people were estimated to be in need of food assistance in the April 2019‑March 2020 period, compared to an estimated 35 000 people in the previous year, according to the Botswana Vulnerability Assessment Committee (BVAC).
In its Global Information and Early Warning System, FAO said the moderate increase is mainly due to the reduced 2019 cereal harvest and the deterioration of livestock body conditions, which particularly affected the livelihoods of subsistence farmers.
FAO in its Global Information and Early Warning System recently also posted that: “Looking further ahead, although an increase in cereal and livestock production in 2020 would improve food availability and ease access constraints to food for subsistence farmers, the risks posed by the COVID‑19 pandemic could cause an increase in the prevalence of malnutrition at the national level.
The effects of the pandemic are expected to be primarily channelled through a reduction in economic activities and associated income losses. A breakdown in supply chains, particularly in relation to trade disruptions with South Africa, which is the primary source of staple foods, would have sizeable impacts on the availability of food supplies in local markets.”
The cost of a healthy diet amid ‘The Great Pandemic’
Cereal and bread are not considered to be healthy food in terms of their nutritional value, as they contain a lot of carbohydrates which are said to be fuelling obesity and its health repercussions in any economy. Fruits and vegetables which are commonly recommended as a panacea to many diseases like immunisations against Covid-19 and makes healthy meals, are trailing the food consumer price index weights at number 6 and 7 respectively.
This paints a picture that Batswana’s diet is predominantly carbohydrates or cereal and bread as opposed to the healthy fruits and vegetables. According to FAO, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, Abebe Haile-Gabriel in a piece sent to BusinessPost, hunger is on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa, and a healthy diet has become an out-of-reach luxury item for many Africans.
According to Haile-Gabriel, there is a recently launched ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI)’ report which found that Africa has the highest prevalence of undernourishment – more than twice the global average – and the fastest growth in the number of hungry people compared to other regions.
“COVID-19 is compounding the problem. Disruptions to food supply and livelihoods mean that many households are facing increased difficulties in accessing nutritious foods, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable. Preliminary projections outlined in the report suggest that COVID-19 could add an additional 83 to 132 million people globally to the ranks of the undernourished,” said Haile-Gabriel.
Haile-Gabriel also added that the cost of a healthy diet is above the international poverty line, meaning that people earning less than US$1.90 per day cannot afford to eat adequate calories and nutrients from diverse food groups. The UN representative also said, compared to other regions, this affordability poses the greatest challenge in Africa, where a healthy diet is beyond the means of nearly a billion people.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, a healthy diet costs 3.2 times more than the poverty line, and the situation is even worse in countries with a protracted crisis such as conflict. The poverty line itself needs to be reviewed to include the cost of nutritious food as a basic cost of living,” the FAO chief said.