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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

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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Business

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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