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Food movers bullish in markets amid lockdown high eating costs

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.

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Business

Closed border trade conundrum; Masisi’s pragmatic headache

4th August 2020

A graphical picture or statistical publication shows that since 2018, Botswana’s trade balance has been on the lows if not fluctuating on the negatives-a bad economic health. This was shown in the latest International Merchandise Trade Statistics (IMTS), statistics which is one of the major contributing indicators of the performance of Botswana’s economy and its competitiveness in the world market.

This trade balance graphical picture is figuratively akin to that of a Covid-19 patient on life support; struggling to breathe while lying down on a sickbed gasping to salvage the last oxygen left on offer.

Botswana’s affair in foreign trade statistics -which is all about an account of all transactions of merchandise between this country’s domestic residents and the rest of the world- is on feeble health or life support status. The account measures the value and quantity of goods which add or subtract from the stock of material resources of a country, by entering (imports) or leaving (exports) its economic territory.

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Business

Enters SEZA the Game Changer

4th August 2020

By introducing special regulatory, administrative and fiscal regimes, the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) intends to improve the ease of doing business and re-position Botswana as a premier investment destination of choice, thereby ushering in a new era of robust economic growth.

This was revealed by SEZA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Lonely Mogara, who further explained that the special regulatory, administrative and fiscal regimes will be implemented at the Authority’s eight SEZs in Pandamatenga, Francistown, Selibe Phikwe, Palapye, Tuli Block, Gaborone and Lobatse.

“These special regimes will ease doing business by addressing constraints that may hinder investment in the country like work permits, residence permits, building permits, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) permits, and tax incentives through a dedicated One Stop Service Centre (OSSC),” said Mogara.

SEZA was established through an Act of Parliament and mandated to establish, develop, manage and regulate a portfolio of SEZs. The Authority would then attract world class investors to set up mega factories and businesses in these SEZs, thereby growing and diversifying the Botswana economy through increased Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and export revenue.

Mogara explained that SEZA intends to develop SEZs that are integrated into the domestic, regional and international markets; facilitate clusters development; and create backward and forward linkages anchored by targeted investors. The Authority will also rollout the red carpet for SEZ investors through its robust One Stop Service Centre (OSSC).

“In order to tap into existing resources and avoid duplication, we have initiated discussions with strategic organisations that will be appointed Zone Management Companies. Some of the potential Zone Management Companies that we have identified are Local Enterprise Authority (LEA), Fairgrounds Holdings, Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH), Selibe Phikwe Economic Diversification Unit (SPEDU) and Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (BAMB),” said Mogara.

Going forward, SEZA will explore partnerships with these stakeholders to leverage on their strengths and optimise the country’s resources. To this end, said Mogara, SEZA has already signed agreements with BIH and Business Botswana; while negotiations with BAMB and LEA are in advanced stages.

In 2005, the Business Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) recommended the implementation of Free Zones to spur economic growth and diversification, create jobs and eradicate poverty post depletion of minerals. Free Zones were identified as suitable vehicles for introducing viable, new economic activities by providing attractive incentives for highly specific, strictly circumscribed investment ventures. Government later adopted the SEZ Policy of 2011, established the SEZA in 2016 and approved the SEZ Regulations and Incentives in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

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Business

De Beers Q2 production down 54 %, sales drop 95 %

4th August 2020
Diamonds

Rough diamond production for global mining giant, De Beers Group declined by 54% to 3.5 million carats in the second quarter of 2021. This is primarily due to the Covid-19 lockdowns across the mining producer countries.

A production report released by Anglo American, De Beers parent company recently , reveals that Debswana, Botswana’s De Beers operation spearheaded the decline, registering 68 % drop in production for the second quarter of the year 2020.

Debswana is jointly owned by both Botswana Government & De Beers Group on equal shareholding. Botswana government has 15 % direct shareholding on De Beers Group, with the remaining 85 % owned by mining conglomerate Anglo American.

Debswana, which is De Beers‘s flagship rough diamond producer has only managed to deliver to 1.8 million carats in quarter 2, principally due to a nationwide lockdown from 2 April to 18 May in Botswana. In addition De Beers says the 68 % production drop is also attributable to curtailed output in both plant and human resource as a result of Covid-19 measures implemented to safeguard the workforce. Operations restarted from mid-May, with production targeted at levels to meet the lower demand.

Since COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world beginning of the year, demand in polished diamonds significantly dropped as a result of closure of jewelry and retail outlets in the United States.
This then disrupted the entire value chain from downstream backwards, leaving midstream businesses with full and dense inventories subsequently shrinking demand for rough goods from upstream producer entities.

In Namibia where De Beers operate a model similar to that in Botswana, production decreased significantly at NamDeb, the inland mining outfit jointly owned by Namibian Government and De Beers Group on 50-50 shareholding.

However the decrease was offset by Debmarine, a unique mining operation where De Beers recovers diamonds on the Namibian coast of Atlantic Ocean. In 2016 De Beers invested P5 billion on a new vessel of unprecedented sophistication for Debmarine to take coastal diamond mining to another level.

For the quarter under review, the magic was delivered by Mafuta crawler vessel which was under maintenance in Q2 2019. Overall production in Namibia increased by 7% to 0.4 million carats.
In South African where De Beers operates Venetia Mine in Limpopo province, production decreased by 3% to 0.6 million carats primarily due to Covid-19 measures. The production shutdown was partly offset by higher grades from the open pit material prior to transition to the underground.

Production in Canada decreased by 27% to 0.8 million carats, primarily due to Victor reaching the end of its life in Q2 2019. At Gahcho Kué, production decreased by 11% to 0.8 million carats due to Covid-19 measures.

SALES

During Q2, the demand for rough diamonds was significantly impacted by a combination of Covid-19 restrictions impacting consumer demand and access to Southern Africa, as well as severely limited midstream cutting and polishing capacity due to lockdowns, particularly in India.

Rough diamond sales totalled 0.3 million carats (0.2 million carats on a consolidated basis) compared with 9.0 million carats (8.3 million carats on a consolidated basis) in Q2 2019. The third Sight of 2020 was cancelled due to Covid-19-related travel restrictions and, in response to the unprecedented industry conditions, De Beers also offered sightholders the option to defer up to 100% of their allocations at the fourth and fifth Sights.

Rough diamond consolidated sales in Q2 2020 decreased to $56 million, signaling a catastrophic decline from $1.3 billion raked in second quarter 2019. The sharp decline was driven by lower volumes and prices.

The H1 2020 average realized rough diamond price decreased by 21% to $119/carat (H1 2019: $151/carat), driven by a higher proportion of lower value rough diamonds sold and an 8% reduction in the average rough price index.

De Beers has however maintained their production guidance at 25-27 million carats (100% basis), subject to continuous review based on the disruptions related to Covid-19 as well as the timing and scale of the recovery in demand. The guidance was in the first quarter revised from the initial 32-34 million carats forecasted beginning of the year, slashed by 20 % to the current guidance in response to declining demand.

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