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Pula Fund on P4 billion depletion amidst crumbling domestic economy

DR Matsheka

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.

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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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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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