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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

Sefalana releases best ever HY Financial results

23rd February 2021
Sefalana MD: Chandra Chauhan

Sefalana released their best ever half year financial results. Revenue grew by 2.3% to BWP2.91 billion (HY 2019: BWP2.85 billion). Gross profit increased by 17.4% to BWP215.1 million (HY 2019:

BWP183.3 million) yielding an improved gross profit margin of 7.4% (HY 2019: 6.4%). Administrative expenses went up by 7.8% to BWP97.0 million (HY 2019: BWP90.0 million). EBITA shot up by 31.5% to BWP138.6 million (HY 2019: BWP105.4 million) translating to EBITA margin of 4.8% (HY 2019: 3.7%).

Investment income was BWP22.8 million (HY 2019: BWP28.2 million). Profit before tax increased by 22.8% to BWP148.7 million (HY 2019: BWP121.1 million). Effective tax rate was lower at 23.9% (HY 2019: 28.4%) translating to a 30.7% hike in profit after tax to BWP113.2 million (HY 2019: BWP86.7 million).

Local Trading consumer goods segment was resilient despite a marginal decline in revenue. Revenue declined by 1.6% to BWP1.59 billion (HY 2019: BWP1.62 billion), however a 2.0% decline in cost of goods sold offset decline in revenue to see gross profit increase by 7.6% to BWP75.6 million (HY 2019: BWP70.3 million), an improved gross profit margin of 4.8% (HY 2019: 4.3%) was realized as a result.

Profit for the period was down 2.4% to BWP34.8 million (HY 2019: BWP35.7 million) mainly impacted by restrictions on liquor sales which have been in place for the entire reporting period. At the beginning of the financial year, the group manned 4 Hyper Stores (“Sefalana Hyper”), 25 Cash& Carry stores (“Sefalana Cash& Carry”) and 29 supermarket retail stores (“Sefalana Shopper”).During the period, Sefalana Shopper retail store in Shakawe, Sefalana Liquor outlet in Tlokweng were opened, and Sefalana Shopper Molepolole store was refurbished.

Lesotho has seen its revenue increase by 30.9% to BWP295.7 million (HY 2019: BWP225.8 million). Profit before tax spiked 162.4% to BWP1.9 million (HY 2019: -BWP3.1 million). Namibia has performed well to place it as the largest contributor to profit before tax. The segment’s revenue increased by 5.5% to BWP896.8 million (HY 2019: BWP850.2 million). Gross profit rose by 25.4% to BWP60.9 million (HY 2019: BWP48.6 million) translating to an improved gross profit margin of 6.8% (HY 2019: 5.7%). Profit before tax went up by 40.6% to BWP39.8 million (HY 2019: BWP28.3 million).

The Manufacturing arm had an excellent performance. Revenue rose by 26.7% to BWP125.0 million (HY 2019: BWP98.7 million). Gross profit increased by 39.4% to BWP28.6 million (HY 2019: BWP20.5 million), producing a gross profit margin of 22.9% (HY 2019: 20.8%). Profit before tax shot up by 96.5% to BWP16.0 million (HY 2019: BWP8.1 million). The profitability of this business is largely driven by the timing of orders placed by Government for its various feeding schemes and availability of raw material.

The milling division has for all six months manufactured and supplied in full to the Government, however only one third of the total contract volumes was awarded to the business in respect of the 24 month contract issued in April 2020. Raw materials have been procured and contracts entered into for procurement of grain to fulfill any additional volumes that the Government might require.

Beverages division was awarded a 24 month supply of milk tender to the Government for the children’s feeding scheme in March 2019 which is currently being fulfilled. There has been a shortage in raw materials in the region due to a reduced number of dairy cows during the pandemic as farmers placed more focus on meat production. Despite an underway catch up on reinstating dairy cow population the business expects shortages to continue in early 2021.

The Trading others segment experienced a decline on its top and bottom line figures. Revenue went down by 43.9% to BWP42.2 million (HY 2019: BWP75.2 million). Gross profit went down by 23.9% to BWP11.5 million (HY 2019: BWP15.1 million). Profit before tax went down 56.8% to BWP3.2 million (HY 2019: BWP7.4 million). The segment was impacted by a reduction in sales of motor vehicles as customers prioritized spending on essential goods and services.

The Property segment in Botswana performed well, with all most all properties tenanted for leases ranging between two-six years. Setlhoa site is complete, comprising of Sefalana Shopper store, petrol station and rentals to Ital Tiles and CTM. Just over 5000sqm of land remains vacant. The space initially set out for the group’s Motor Dealership will be considered for other alternative options in a bid to optimize return from the site. In contra, Zambia performed below the previous period as the past two years elapsed in search of replacement tenants for their premises due to an influx of similar properties.

A 3000sqm warehouse space is expected to commence development in February 2021 to house bottled water and fruit juice plants. Milling division anticipates expansion by the end of 2021, the expansion is to include a wheat milling plant which will leverage on existing infrastructure and complement existing milling activities.

A phase 2 investment in Australian business is expected in May 2021. Five more stores will be acquired through this investment to bring the stores to a total of 12 in that market. The investment amount is anticipated to be around P80 million, to be funded through existing cashflows.

The preference share agreement on the South African consortium matures in July 2022. The group’s appetite for conversion of its investment in to a 30% equity stake will be influenced by the covid-19 pandemic impact. As such a decision will be made closer to maturity date.

The group maintains that its 40% interest in Grow Mine Africa (Pty) Limited, the Preferred Bidder in the National Lottery remains in place. According to management, the judgement of urgent application was in favor of Grow Mine and the formal ruling by the courts will be issued next week. Accordingly, further negotiations with the Gambling Authority are expected in quarter one of 2021.

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Business

Botswana Diamonds secures funding for CKGR exploration

23rd February 2021
Sekaka-Diamonds-Exploration

Botswana Diamond PLC, a Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed exploration company has moved a step closer towards developing it’s much talked about gem deposits around the Central Kalahari area in Botswana.

On Tuesday the company notified its shareholders through a circular published on the BSE, that it has entered into a cooperation agreement to fund exploration of its prospecting licence assets in Botswana with Diamexstrat Botswana Pty Ltd (DESB), which in turn has an alliance agreement with Burgundy Diamond Mines Limited, an Australia Stock Exchange (ASX) listed mining company.

BOD’s prospecting assets comprise the recently acquired Sekaka Diamonds Exploration Pty Ltd (Sekaka) database and Prospecting Licenses, as well as the Prospecting Licences held by BOD’s subsidiary, Sunland Minerals Pty Ltd (Sunland Minerals).

According to the statement from Botswana Diamond, Diamexstrat Botswana and its partner, Burgundy would earn up to a 70% interest in BOD’s Botswana Sunland Minerals and Sekaka’s Prospecting Licences.

On the other hand BOD can earn a 15% interest in Prospecting Licences held by Diamexstrat and its partners on the first US$1.5m spent on exploration by Diamexstrat where BOD’s database assists in the discovery of a primary kimberlite.

On 3rd party Prospecting Licences where targets are identified in BOD’s database, a joint earn-in will be negotiated at the time. For new Botswana Prospecting Licences, Diamexstrat, and its partner, Burgundy can earn up to 70%.  Under the Agreement, the parties have agreed to utilize BOD’s diamond exploration database, which it acquired in last year as part of the acquisition of Sekaka Diamonds Exploration Pty Ltd (Sekaka).

The database contains the results of work undertaken by Sekaka’ former owner, Petra Diamonds, since 2005, and includes data in respect of airborne, including the Falcon survey, and ground magnetics (including gravity and EM), in addition to heavy mineral sampling.

DESB has six months to conduct an initial review of BOD’s database , in order to identify exploration targets within any of BOD’s existing Sunland and Sekaka Prospecting Licences (excluding the KX36 Kimberlite held by Sekaka) (the “Designated PL”).

DESB will be entitled to earn a 50% interest in a Designated PL by meeting the annual minimum exploration expenditure commitment on the Designated PL and in addition either discovering a kimberlite through the intersection of kimberlite in any drill holes or a potential secondary diamondiferous alluvial deposit through the intersection of gravels in a drill hole or pit.

DESB shall be entitled to earn an additional 1%, to hold 51% in any Designated PL, by proving the primary kimberlite or alluvial deposit to be diamondiferous through funding the required micro-diamond analysis or bulk sampling.

DESB will also be entitled to earn a further 19%, to hold 70% in the Designated PL, by subsequently funding and delivering a bankable feasibility study. Any Prospecting Licence not selected by DESB at the end of the six-month period will remain wholly-owned by BOD.

Where it is agreed that geological data present in the database that was not previously available to DESB has assisted in the discovery of a kimberlite or a secondary alluvial deposit within the Exploration Area , BOD shall be granted a 15% free carry for the initial approved US$1.5 million of Exploration Expenditure by DESB on the discovery. Once the Exploration Expenditure has been incurred, each party will contribute funding in accordance with its interest or be diluted pro-rata.

Sunland Minerals holds 12 active Prospecting Licences in the Gope/CKGR (Kalahari) area. As at 30 June 2020, the audited carrying value of BOD’s Sunland Minerals assets amounted to £1.1 million and Sunland’s loss before tax amounted to £43,101.

In the year ended 30 June 2020, Sunland’s Exploration Expenditure, mainly comprising licence fees and the costs of maintaining the licence in good standing, together with agreed fixed costs and expenses, amounted to £65,760.

On 30 November 2020, Botswana Diamonds completed the acquisition of Sekaka which holds three Prospecting Licences in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, PL169/2019, PL058/2007 and PL224/2007, which includes the KX36 kimberlite pipe.

The acquisition also included an extensive database. The consideration comprised a cash payment of US$300,000 and a 5% royalty on future revenues.  The first deferred consideration cash payment of US$150,000 will be payable on 27 November 2021, being the first anniversary of completion of the acquisition and the balance on or before 27 November 2022.

In Sekaka’s audited annual financial statements for the year ended 30 June 2019, Sekaka reported a loss before taxation of Pula 16,875,179 (equivalent to approximately £1.16 million, which included a non-cash foreign exchange loss of Pula 11,688,432 (equivalent to approximately £0.8 million) on the carrying value of the historic intercompany debt which was extinguished on acquisition.

As at 30 June 2019, Sekaka had audited total assets of Pula 6,565,700 (equivalent to approximately £425k). Diamexstrat is a privately owned company focused on diamond exploration in Botswana chaired by Gerard de la Vallee Poussin and with Barry Bayly as the Chief Executive Officer. Both Gerard and Barry have extensive experience in the exploration for diamondiferous kimberlites in Africa.

Commenting on the cooperation between BOD and Diaexstrat , James Campbell, Managing Director, of BOD said the partnership will progress the extensive and highly prospective exploration assets in Botswana which comprises Sekaka Diamonds and with our own drill-ready prospects in Sunland Minerals.

“I look forward to working with the Diamexstrat and Burgundy teams made-up of complimentary highly experienced and leading experts in the field of diamond exploration and project development”.  John Teeling, Chairman of Botswana Diamonds Board of Directors said Botswana is one of the world’s best addresses for diamond exploration. He explained that the combination of a fresh approach and advanced technology, supported by a recovering diamond market, presents both parties with significant opportunities.

“I am delighted to announce this partnership with experienced Diamexstrat, and its ASX listed-partner, Burgundy, which expands and deepens our exploration work.”

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Business

Tlou Energy announces first carbon neutral plant

23rd February 2021
Tlou-Enegery

As countries continue to battle climate change which is a result of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, local coal-bed Methane (CBM) exploration outfit, Tlou Energy this week revealed intent to make the Lesedi Power project the first carbon neutral power project in Botswana.

The multi-listed company, which is focused on generating cleaner power in Botswana for supply into the local and regional power markets said they have already negotiated land access and leasing agreements with relevant land-holders for the power generation facility and new field operations camp.

According to a statement from Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed energy entity, there have been recent steps taken to acquire additional land for carbon sequestration and there is also availability of land and labour within the Lesedi project which favours Tlou Energy in developing carbon neutral power project.

Carbon sequestration involves capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so that it potentially reduces its contribution to global warming.  It is essentially the long-term storage of carbon in soil, plants, and geological formations. Carbon sequestration can occur naturally and as a result of human activities and typically refers to the storage of carbon that has the immediate potential to become carbon dioxide gas.

Tlou Energy Managing Director, Tony Gilby commented: “There is considerable scope for using the savanna ecosystem of the Lesedi region for carbon sequestration by protecting it from burning and intensive grazing leading to an increase in the ability of the vegetation to store carbon over time.” “This will assist Tlou to be able to supply carbon neutral power to the considerable number of potential customers in the region.”

Gilby also revealed that the regional power consumer, Orapa diamond mine operated by Debswana and located north of Tlou’s gas fields has publicly stated their objective to decrease their carbon footprint. According to Tlou Energy MD, the Lesedi project area is considered as shrub savanna containing various tree species. He however noted that subdivisions found within Tlou’s project area are predominantly rural with most of the land being deployed due to livestock agriculture.

“Tlou  is  in  the  process  of  negotiating  the  acquisition  of  land  to  reduce  livestock numbers  and  implement  fire mitigation measures. This will substantially increase the amount of available woody biomass which can be used to claim carbon credits within the project area,” he said.

The company said carbon credits will be offset against the carbon dioxide associated with Lesedi’s gas fired power generation component noting that the gas will in any event produce considerably less carbon dioxide compared to the ones generated by coal and diesel.

“Carbon reduction is part of Tlou’s commitment to the environment and part of the company’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) program aimed at enhancing the lives of the local population and regional communities,” said Tlou energy MD.

“Tlou has a track record of supporting local charities and youth groups and looking to grow local employment with investment in community ventures. This includes programs aimed at growing higher nutritional value crops for local livestock so grazing could be reduced and biomass preserved, as well as promoting wildlife.”

Meanwhile, last month Botswana Government through Ministry of Mineral Resources, Green Technology & Energy Security (MMGE) underscored its intention to support power generation through Coal-Bed- Methane (CBM). Tlou’s MD Gilby commented, “It is great to see that Botswana is open for business and the Government is motivated to get the gas industry up and running.

Gilby revealed that his company plans to start development of the Lesedi project as soon as possible noting that “confirmation of the Government’s enthusiasm to provide the necessary support to ensure commercial development of CBM is very well received.” “In addition, we have also recommenced negotiations with Botswana based project financiers this month as we aim to close a deal for funding as soon as possible.

After what was an extremely challenging year the Company is already making progress in 2021 and anticipate further advancement on all fronts in the coming term. We look forward to updating the market with further developments in due course,” he concluded.

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