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Should credit be panacea for ‘The Great Pandemic’?

Dr Thapelo Matsheka

There is currently an image of microeconomics heavily eclipsing macroeconomics as economies around the world including Botswana, are going through lockdowns leading to the closure of borders around the world.

This visual should show a system of economics where decisions are mostly human based or business centred taking a bigger shape and replacing plans made by governments in front of a broken vintage mirror reminiscing The Great Depression.

When he rushed to close the country to a complete halt of lockdown on 31 March, in his most sober speech after this country discovered the first face of the invisible enemy; Covid-19, President Mokgweetsi Masisi in paragraph 17 of his speech talked of “Stabilizing businesses.”

With the decision to close down borders, there was obviously no way Masisi was going to speak macroeconomics in his speech given the situation of a pandemic affecting the global village and threatening to wipe out the human race.

The President only bordered his thought on how government can help businesses participate in the domestic economy whereby the Government is to “give businesses some cash-flow relief. Government will guarantee loans by commercial banks to businesses mostly affected by COVID-19.

Give eligible businesses affected by COVID-19 access to credit to support ongoing operations in conditions where credit becomes more difficult to obtain.”

Masisi was talking of credit to businesses but the discussion was more than what was in the black and white document.

However, dynamics shift when microeconomics takes centre stage as compared to macroeconomics especially when there is something which greatly affects humanity and cuts down all the aspects of humanness, like wars, disasters and diseases or a big global economic collapse.

As the global economy is cornered, there comes a time when things seem like déjà vu as the history of The Great Depression after the First World War repeats itself in this era of the novel Corona virus. There was a global wave that saw the collapse of the stock market while populations across the world failed to deal with microeconomics which were caused by macroeconomics when nations went for war.

After WWI, the US banks got hit hard due to credits offered to countries at war. Domestically, financial systems collapsed due to people or businesses who could not pay back banks.

There were many global economic downfalls including ‘Great Trade War’ between China and the US which affected global economics. Recently, the ‘Great Price War’ amongst oil producing giants subsequently resulted in ‘Great Oil Crunch’ not to forget the Brexit saga all this during and amid Covid-19, things went from bad to worse for economies in 2020. But in microeconomics there is an echo that ploughing credit in the population will be the best medicine in this year of economic ills.

As coronavirus took its toll on Botswana’s economy, one of the most fiscal and monetary interventions was when the central bank cut the benchmark policy rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 percent aimed at cushioning the economy by easing borrowing costs across board.

The prudential capital adequacy ratio for commercial banks was also dropped from 12.5 percent to 15 percent. The central bank said the reduction of primary reserve requirement will free up P1.6 billion to be used by banks to finance economic activity.

A recent business expectations survey by Bank of Botswana (BoB) for the second quarter, which was carried out in the constrained conditions of Covid-19 lockdown, says firms do not believe there will be easy access to credit. Firms anticipate “tight access to credit in the domestic market in the second quarter of 2020.

Businesses also expect lending rates in the rest of the markets to decline according to the business expectations survey and this is not what the President wished for in his first Covid-19 speech of 31 March.

Business expectations could have been informed by the statistics which were recently released by BoB. The statistics which were made before Masisi encouraged borrowing as one of the economic panacea in the wave of ‘The Great Pandemic’ shows that commercial bank credit growth in March 2020 swayed more to households than businesses.

This contradicted Masisi’s State of Emergency speech as instead of businesses taking credit from commercial banks, households lead the connection to tellers with credit growth of 15 percent by March 2020. Credit growth in businesses was only four percent.

According to the central bank, annual growth in commercial bank credit increased by 10.7 percent in March 2020, from 6.7 percent in March 2019. However, things were different last March unlike this year where household credit dwarfed that to businesses. Last March businesses had a credit growth of 7.5 percent while households was at 6.2 percent.

According to BoB Annual Report of 2019, which was released recently, commercial bank credit decelerated from 7.7 percent in 2018 to 7.6 percent in 2019. “The slight decrease in the rate of credit growth was mostly associated with sluggish lending to businesses, which decreased from 10 percent in 2018 to -1.7 percent in 2019.

This was mostly due to loan repayments by some companies in manufacturing (some in the diamond cutting and polishing sectors,” said the Annual Report.

Borrowing but not paying back

During The Great Depression the banking sector suffered the most with companies and households failing to pay back the money they owed. This could be the case with ‘The Great Pandemic’.

As much as credit appetite is growing for households than for businesses, the central bank on Tuesday told reporters that it is a good thing as it stimulates domestic demand. It emerged during a dialogue between the central bank and the media this week that the prevalence of Non-Performing Loans (NPLs) has remained an eyesore for the banking sector for years. Households would line up to take loans but not pay back.

There could be a problem looming. When the lending rate increased for households, from 7 percent in 2018 to 18.7 percent in 2019, it was because of personal loans facilities which were offered after government hiked public service salaries in the past financial year.

But in this current financial year, the salaries which were supposed to be increased in this season were not hiked. Credit growth to households could shrink further amid Covid-19 economic effects because of such decisions.

Maybe government by withholding salary hikes spared many from borrowing and failing their debt obligation as coronavirus hit. But some economic pragmatics hold a different view, saying people will shy away from borrowing because their salaries were not increased hence an expected decrease in credit growth.

Non-Performing Loans

Manufacturing and trade sectors dominated the private business NPLs in 2018, accounting for 29.5 percent of the private business NPLs. The NPL ratio for businesses soared, it reached 7.5 percent in 2019 from 7.3 percent in 2018.

Despite the household in-debt of Botswana even when considered low by international standard, the central bank in its recent report has observed that household credit is concentrated in unsecured lending, being 70.1 percent in December 2019.

BoB said: “The significant share of unsecured loans and advances has the potential to cause financial distress in households, given the inherently expensive nature of such credit.

Nevertheless, concern would arise in the event of high levels of borrowing that are out of line with trends in economic and personal income growth, which would amplify the risk of exposure of households and businesses to economic shocks and could adversely affect their ability to repay debt.”

Tuesday this week during a meeting with journalists, Head of Banking Supervision Department, Dr Lesedi Senatla said that anyone who applies for bank loans goes through a thorough assessment to see their credit worthiness. But a problem can occur when an unforeseen event like loss of jobs happen. Masisi in his State of Emergency bars anyone from firing or retrenching workers.

BoB Governor, Moses Pelaelo talked of financial discipline not forgetting the fact that “banks are traders of risk” and a source of income may be lost or reckless uses of finance would lead to defaulting in loans.

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Business

The  Bulb World CEO selected for Africa’s prestigious award

22nd July 2021

The Bulb World Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and entrepreneur, Ketshephaone Jacob has been selected as a 2021 Top 50 Africa’s Business Hero.

Jacob was chosen from a pool of 12,000 applicants – many of whom are highly-skilled and accomplished entrepreneurs.

Africa’s Business Hero, sponsored by technology entrepreneur, Jack Ma, aims to identify, support and inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs who are making a difference in their local communities, working to solve the most pressing problems, and building a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the future.

The initiative is as inclusive as possible and applications were open in English and French to entrepreneurs from all African countries, all sectors, and all ages who operate businesses formally registered and headquartered in an African country, and that have a 3 year-track record.

Every year, finalists are selected to compete in the ABH finale pitch competition and participate in a TV Show that will be broadcast online and across the continent.

The finalists will compete for a share of US $1.5 million in grant money.

The Bulb World, is home grown LED light manufacturing company, which was partly funded by Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) at the tune of P4 million, to manufacture LED lighting bulbs for both commercial and residential use in 2017.

The Bulb World operate from the Special Economic Zone of Selibe Phikwe. Early this year, The BulB World announced its expansion to South Africa, setting in motion its ambitious Africa expansion plan.

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Mining production down 12 % IN Q1 2021

14th July 2021

During the first quarter of 2021, production in Botswana’s economic nucleus- the mining sector contracted by 12 percent. This is according to Mining Production Index released by Statistics Botswana this week.

The country’s central data body revealed that Index of Mining production stood at 74.4 during the first quarter of 2021, showing a negative year on-year growth of 12.0 percent, from 84.6 registered during the first quarter of 2020.

The main contributor to the decline in mining production came from the Diamonds sector, which contributed negative 11.7 percentage points. Soda Ash was the only positive contributor in the mining production, contributing 0.1 of a percentage point. However Soda Ash’s contribution was insignificant to offset the negative contribution made by Diamonds.

The quarter-on-quarter analysis by Statistics Botswana experts shows an increase of 16.3 percent from the index of 64.0 during the fourth quarter of 2020 to 74.4 observed during the period under review.

Diamond production decreased by 12.1 percent during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter of the previous year. The decrease was as a result of planned strategy to align production with weaker trading conditions mostly linked to Covid-19 protocols restrictions.

Botswana’s diamond sector is underpinned by Debswana, the country’s flagship rough producer- a 50-50 joint venture between government and global mining giant De Beers Group. The other producer is Canadian based Lucara Diamond Corp through its wholly owned Karowe Mine which is a relatively small but significant production that has made a name for itself worldwide with rare diamond recoveries of unprecedented carat size.

On the other hand, quarter-on quarter analysis shows that production has improved, registering a positive growth of 17.5 percent during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the preceding quarter – 2020 Q4.

Though production was significantly lower in the first quarter, the two producers ended Q2 with rare diamond recoveries. Debswana early last month found the world’s third largest gem diamond – weighing 1098 carat at Jwaneng Mine, its flagship gem quality diamonds producer, also regarded the world’s richest diamond mine.

A week later Lucara  announced its second biggest recovery, the 1174 carat clivage near-gem dug from its Karowe Mine. The diamond is the world third in carat size after the plus-3000 carat Cullinan found in South Africa back in 1905 and the 1758 carat Sewelo unearthed at its Karowe mine in 2019. Debswana and Lucara are investing billions of pulas in underground mining projects to extend the life of its mines, Jwaneng & Karowe respectively.

In terms of Gold which is produced at Mupani mine near Botswana’s second city of Francistown output decreased by 17.9 percent during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter of the previous year.

Similarly, quarter-on-quarter analysis reflects that production decreased by 21.4 percent during the first quarter of 2021, compared to the preceding quarter. The decrease was as a result of the deteriorating lifespan of the mine as well as the impact of COVID-19 which slowed down the mining activities.

Soda Ash production increased by 11.1 percent during the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same quarter of the previous year. In terms of quarter-on-quarter Soda Ash production also showed an increase, picking up by 2.1 percent during the period under review. The increase in production is attributable to the effectiveness of the plant following refurbishment which occurred in the third quarter of 2020.

Salt production decreased by 34.0 percent during the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same quarter of the previous year. Similarly, the quarter-on-quarter analysis shows that salt production registered a decrease of 32.9 percent during the period under review. Both salt and Sodash are produced by partly government owned Botswana Ash (BotsAsh) operating from Sowa town near Makgadikgadi pans.

Coal production decreased by 11.2 percent during the first quarter of 2021, compared to the corresponding quarter of the previous year. The decrease was attributed to the reduced demand from Morupule B Power Station following the remedial works being undertaken, as one boiler was in operation during the period under review.

Although production fell, Statistics Botswana says there was no shortfall in supply of coal due to stockpiling. On the other hand, the quarter-on-quarter comparison shows that coal production increased by 20.4 percent compared to the preceding quarter.

Botswana’s flagship coal producer is Morupule Coal Mine; a wholly state owned mining company located in Palapye producing primarily for Botswana Power Corporation (BPC)’s power generation plants Morupule A & B.

The other coal producer is Botswana Stock Exchange listed Minergy which operates a 390 MT Coal Resource mine in Masama near Media in the southwestern edge of the Mmamabula Coalfields.

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Gov’t awards mining licence for Gantsi Copper Mine

14th July 2021
Moagi

Department of Mines in the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology & Energy Security has awarded mining licence to Tshukudu Metals-a subsidiary of Aussie firm Sandfire Resources ,giving the company a green light to start piecing the ground at its Motheo Copper Project near Gantsi.

Lefoko Moagi, minister in charge of mineral resources in Botswana confirmed to weekendpost on Tuesday. Minister Moagi revealed that “the licence has been approved , but Sandfire Resources as a listed company will report to its shareholders and investors then make an official public statement” he said.

Based on a forecast copper price of US$3.16/lb (reflecting current long-term consensus pricing) the Base Case 3.2Mtpa – Ghantsi copper project is forecast to generate US$664 million (over P7 billion) in pre-tax free cash-flow and US$987 million (over P10 billion) in EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation), at a forecast all-in sustaining cost of US$1.76/lb over its first 10 years of operations.

In December 2020, the Board of Sandfire Resources approved the commercial development of the Motheo Copper Mine located in the Kalahari Copper Belt in Botswana, marking a key step in its transformation into a global, diversified, and sustainable mining company.

Tshukudu Metals Botswana (Pty) Limited (Tshukudu) a 100% owned subsidiary will be the owner and operator of the Motheo Copper Mine which is scheduled to produce up to 30,000 tonnes per annum of copper in concentrate over a 12 year mine life.TMB is targeting development of its Motheo Copper Mine in 2021 and 2022, with its first production in 2023.

GOVERNMENT NOT TAKING UP 15 % STAKE ON OFFER

Beginning of this year presentations were made to the Department of Mines as part of the Mining Licence approval process and to the Ghanzi Regional Council, additional information was requested by Department of Mines in April and was duly supplied by the company.

As part of the Mining Licence approval process, the Government of Botswana has a right to acquire up to a 15% fully contributing interest in all mining projects locally. Quizzed on whether government through Mineral Development Corporation Botswana (MDCB) would be taking up stake in the project Minister Moagi said, “No consideration is being made on that regard”.

“Government is not considering taking up a stake in the Ghantsi Copper Mine project, every opportunity is assessed on all risks, but Government makes money all the while from leases, taxes and royalties, remember if you take stake you are liable for liabilities of the project as well,” Moagi said.

MINING CONTRACT

Last month Sandfire announced that it has awarded over P5 billion worth mining contract to African Mining Services (AMS), a subsidiary of Perenti, to deliver the open cast operation.

The contract, which has an estimated value of US$496 million (over 5 billion), is the largest single operational contract for the new Motheo Project covering a period of 7 years and 3 months, with provision for a one-year extension.

The contract according to Sandfire Resources was awarded following a competitive 3-stage tender process which saw a number of key factors taken into consideration when selecting the preferred contractor.

These included Citizen Economic Empowerment, safety culture, equipment suitability and availability, commercial terms and identified improvement opportunities. Under the terms of the contract, AMS has agreed to form a 70:30 Joint Venture with a suitable local Botswana partner or partners.

The JV is expected to be finalized ahead of commencement of mining in early 2022. African Mining Services has been operating in Africa for over 30 years. AMS’ parent company, ASX listed diversified mining services group Perenti, already has a presence in Botswana through Barminco, their underground mining division, at the large-scale Khoemacau Copper Mine located 200km north-east of Motheo.

Last month Sandfire executives said the award of the open pit mining contract represents another key milestone in advancing the Motheo Project towards production, with all components of the contract in line with the key parameters outlined in the December 2020 Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS).

The company said full-scale construction of the US$279 million (over P 3 billion ) mine development is expected to commence immediately upon receipt of the Mining Licence, with mining scheduled to commence in early 2022 ahead of first production in early 2023. This week Sandfire Resources advertised over 10 positions in calling on applications from geologists, mining engineers and geotechnical engineers.

The Motheo mine has an initial mine life of 12.5 years based on production from the T3 pit. The initial development is expected to generate approximately 1,000 jobs during the construction phase and 600 direct full-time jobs during operations, with at least 95% of the total mine workforce expected to be made of up of Botswana citizens.

Later in the week Sandfire Resources announced in the company website that it has received the licence. Sandfire’s Managing Director and CEO, Mr Karl Simich, said the award of the Mining Licence represented a major milestone that would see a significant increase in construction and development activities on site.

“We are absolutely delighted to now be in a position to move to full-scale construction at Motheo, with our construction crews expected to mobilise to site over the next few days. I would like to thank the Government of Botswana for their support throughout the approvals process, which will see Motheo come on-stream in 2023 as one of very few new copper mines commencing production globally.”

Simich said the project is expected to generate approximately 1,000 jobs during construction and 600 full-time jobs during operations, and represents the foundation for Sandfire’s long-term growth plans in Botswana.

“Our vision is that Motheo will form the centre of a new, long-life copper production hub in in the central portion of the world-class Kalahari Copper Belt, where we hold an extensive ground-holding spanning Botswana and Namibia,” he said.

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