Businesses, banks and household on Thursday midday received the much anticipated announcement from Bank of Botswana Governor, Moses Pelaelo, who said the central bank has decided to reduce the Bank Rate by 50 basis points from 4.25 percent to 3.75 percent.
This is the second 50 basis points cut this year after the April cut from 4.25 percent to 4.75 percent. This Thursday cut is the record lowest since 2006, two years before global recession. The two cuts this year were seen as intervention to cushion the economic impact of Covid-19. Covid-19 and its new normal to most business activities shifted most macroeconomic dynamics and dimension; this recent cut according to the central bank is meant to support the domestic economy which is backed against the wall by inflationary pressures.
The headline inflation remained steady at 1 percent in August and well below the lower bound of the Bank’s objective range of 3-6 percent after waking from the lowest level since records began in January of 1997(June and July, 0.9 percent). For August, the upward pressure came from prices of food & non-alcoholic beverages (4.2 percent vs 3.9 percent in July); housing & utilities (6.1 percent vs 5.9 percent); alcoholic beverages & tobacco (6.6 percent, the same pace as in July) as the economy was rising from a gloomy lockdown. But the Bank has decided to improve spending.
Inflation has been at the bottom of BoB’s container of 3 percent to 6 percent for 11 months and it is expected to bounce back to the targeted range in the third quarter of 2021 according to Pelaelo. “The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent containment measures have severely throttled economic activity globally and domestically as production, supply chains, project implementation and provision of goods and services are constrained. Similarly, consumption and spending are disrupted, hence domestic demand pressures and foreign prices remain subdued.
Consequently, overall risks to the inflation outlook are skewed to the downside. However, inflation may rise above current forecasts if international commodity prices increase beyond current projections and in the event of upward price pressures occasioned by supply constraints due to travel restrictions and lockdowns,” says Pelaelo on Thursday.
Pelaelo and his Central Bank Monetary Committee was on this recent decision making amid the work-on of the second quarter of 2020 GDP data. In the Thursday press conference, Pelaelo said already Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by 4.2 percent in the 12 months to June 2020, compared to a growth of 3.9 percent in the year to June 2019.
“The decline in output is attributable to the contraction in output of both the mining and non-mining sectors, resulting from the associated COVID-19 pandemic containment measures. Mining output contracted by 18.6 percent compared to a growth of 1.5 percent in the corresponding period ending June 2019, mainly due to weaker performance of the diamond, copper, soda ash and other mining subsectors,” said the Governor on Thursday.
Furthermore, Pelaelo said Non-mining GDP contracted by 2.6 percent in the year to June 2020 compared to a growth of 4.2 percent in the corresponding period in 2019. The decline in non-mining GDP was mainly due to contractions in output of the trade, hotels and restaurants, construction, manufacturing and transport and communications sectors.
But the storm was felt recently in the release of the second quarter of 2020 economic data, a depiction of the heavy wave that invisibly came with Covid-19 inside Botswana borders in March. A mammoth decline in real value added of Mining & Quarrying and Trade, Hotels & Restaurants industries by 60.2 and 40.3 percent respectively made sure that the Real Gross Domestic Product for the second quarter of 2020 plunges by 24.0 percent.
“The nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter of 2020 was P36, 863.5 million compared to P50, 726.5 million registered during the previous quarter. This represents a quarterly decrease of 27.3 percent between the two periods. During the quarter under review, General Government became the major contributor to GDP for the first time in many years, by 19.7 percent, followed by Finance & Business Services, Trade, Hotels & Restaurants and Mining & Quarrying by 16.7, 16.5 and 8.1 percent respectively. The contribution of other sectors was below 7.0 percent, with Water & Electricity being the lowest at 1.6 percent,” said Statistics Botswana.
A tale of contractions in projections by economists this year, riddled in uncertainty and all spelling deterioration in economic Botswana’s growth this year. Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the International estimates that the economy will decrease by 8.9 percent in 2020, from an earlier forecast of a 13.1 percent contraction, before rebounding to growth of 7.7 percent in 2021. Commercial bank with a locally focused and commissioned research, Rand Merchant Bank, maintains an expectation of 10.5 percent contraction in growth in 2020.
Projections by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is for the domestic economy to contract by 9.6 percent in 2020 compared to 5.4 percent in the April 2020 World Economic Outlook, before rebounding to a growth of 8.6 percent in 2021 for Botswana in 2020. According to the BoB Governor, with recovery in 2021, the contraction in 2020 equates, approximately, to a two-year loss of output. He further stated that the disparity in forecasts attests to the challenges of making forward projections when there is uncertainty about the duration of constrained economic activity, the resultant adverse impact on productive capacity, as well as the speed of resumption of production and pace of recovery in demand. Pelaelo however mentioned that there will be revisions on all the projections made.
Pelaelo explained that, something that was further echoed by his deputy Kealeboga Masalila, BoB’s monetary policy has recognized that the short-term adverse developments in the domestic economy occur against a potentially supportive environment including accommodative monetary conditions. The Governor was referring to, “reforms to further improve the business environment; concerted efforts by government to mitigate the impact of COVID-19; as well as the likely impact of the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan.”
A lot of anticipation has been on the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (ERTP) and its expected take off. With economists curious on whether there will be any monetary policy coordination from the central bank to the ERTP, like an expansionary monetary stance in the form of cutting the benchmark rate, as a way of catalysing the implementation of economic recovery efforts.
According to Rand Merchant Bank Global Markets Research seen by this publication, the government is expected to publish ERTP in 4Q:2020. But the implementation of ERTP is expected to begin in 2021. “With its success relying heavily on prudent project management by government,” says the report.
Following a devastating first half of the year 2020 due to COVID-19, the global diamond industry started gaining positive momentum towards the end of the year as key markets entered into thanks giving and holiday season.
However Bruce Cleaver, Chief Executive Officer of De Beers Group cautioned that the industry is not out of the woods yet, citing prevailing challenges ahead into 2021.
The first half of 2020 was characterized by some of the worst challenges in history of global diamond trade.
The midstream, where rough diamonds are traded in wholesale and bulk to cutters and polishers, was for the most part of second quarter 2020, suffocated by international travel restrictions as countries responded to the contagious Corona Virus.
This halted movement of buyers and shipment of the rough goods , resulting in unprecedented decline of sales, in turn ballooning stockpiles as the upstream operations produced with little uptake by the midstream.
The situation was exacerbated by muted demand in the downstream where jewelry industries and tail end retailers closed to further curb the spread of COVID-19.
However towards the end of third quarter getting into the last quarter of the year, demand in both midstream and downstream started to steadily pick up as countries relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer by value started reporting significant recovery in sales in the sixth and seventh cycle, figures began to reflect an upswing in sentiment as well as increase in uptake of rough goods by midstream.
Sales for the sixth cycle amounted to $116 Million, following a sharp downturn in the previous cycles, significant jump was realized during the seventh cycle, registering $320 million, an over 175 % upswing when gauged against the proceeding cycle.
De Beers noted that diamond markets showed some continued improvement throughout August and into September as Covid-19 restrictions continued to ease in various locations.
“Manufacturers focused on meeting retail demand for polished diamonds, particularly in certain product areas, accordingly, we saw a recovery in rough diamond demand in the seventh sales cycle of the year, reflecting these retail trends, following several months of minimal manufacturing activity and disrupted demand patterns in all major markets,” said De Beers Chief Executive, Bruce Cleaver in September last year.
The diamond mining behemoth continued to register impressive sales in the eighth and ninth cycle signaling the industry could end the year on a positive note.
The momentum was indeed carried into the last cycle of the year. The value of rough diamond sales (Global Sightholder Sales and Auctions) for De Beers’ tenth sales cycle of 2020 amounted to $440 million, a significant increase from the 2019 tenth sales cycle value.
Against what seemed like a positive year end that would split into the New Year Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group, however warned the industry not to count eggs before they hatch.
“Positive consumer demand for diamond jewellery resulting from the holiday season is supporting the continuation of retail orders for polished diamonds from the diamond industry’s midstream sector. This in turn supported steady demand for De Beers’s rough diamonds at our final sales cycle of 2020,” Cleaver had said in December.
In caution the De Beers Chief noted that “While the diamond industry ends the year on a positive note, we must recognise the risks that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic presents to sector recovery both for the rest of this year and as we head into 2021.”
All segments of the supply chain were severely impacted by the global lockdown measures introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020.
After a strong US holiday season at the end of 2019, the rough diamond industry started 2020 positively as the midstream restocked and sentiment improved.
However, from February 2020, the Covid-19 outbreak began to have a significant impact on diamond jewellery retail sales and supply chain, with many jewelers suspending all polished purchases and/or delaying payments to their suppliers.
Rough diamond sales were materially affected by lockdowns and travel restrictions, delaying the shipping of rough diamonds into cutting and trading centers and preventing buyers from attending sales events.
These resulted in significant decline in total revenue for the business in the first six months of 2020. Total revenue decreased by 54% to $1.2 billion from $2.6 billion registered in the prior half year period ended 30 June 2019.
For the entire first six (6) months of the year 2020 De Beers Rough diamonds sales fell drastically to $1.0 billion from $2.3 billion in the prior H1 period ended 30 June 2019. Sales volumes decreased by 45% to 8.5 million carats compared to 15.5 million carats registered in the prior period.
Next month Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka will face the nation to deliver Botswana‘s first budget speech since COVID-19 pandemic put the world on devastating economic trajectory.
The pandemic that broke out in late 2019 in China has put the entire world on unprecedented chaos ,killing over P1 million people across the globe , shattering economies and almost rendering the year 2020 – a 12 months stretch of complete setback.
The 2021/22 budget speech will come at time when Botswana’s economy is still trying to emerge out of this.
National lockdowns and local travel restrictions have hit small medium enterprises hard, while international travel restrictions halted movement of both good and people, delivering by far some of the heaviest and worst catastrophic blows on the diamond industry and tourism sector, the likes of which this country has never seen before on its largest economic sectors.
As Minister Matsheka faces parliament next month, the reality on the ground is that Botswana’s national current cash resource, the Government Investment Account (GIA) is depleting at lightning speed.
On the other hand the COVID-19 economic mess is prevailing, the virus is reported to have taken a new dangerous shape of a deadly variant, spreading like fueled veld fire and causing some of the world’s super powers back to tough restrictions of lockdown.
According official figures released by Bank of Botswana, in October 2020 the GIA was running at P6 billion compared to the P18.3 billion held in the account in October 2019.
However reports indicate that the account could be currently holding just about P3 billion. The draw down from the GIA has been by exacerbated by declining diamond revenue, the country‘s largest cash cow. The sector was experiencing significant revenue decline even before COVID-19 struck.
When the National Development Plan (NDP) 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at a budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively, since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances.
Taking into account the COVID-19 economic mess in 2020/21 financial year, the budget deficit could add up to P20 billion after revised figures.
Drawing down from government cash balances to finance these budget deficits meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account, hence the near depletion of this buffer.
Meanwhile should Botswana’s revenue streams completely dry up to zero levels; the country would only have 11 months, before calling out for humanitarian aids and international donors, because foreign reserves are also on slow down.
During 2019, the foreign exchange reserves declined by 8.7 percent, from Seventy One Billion, Four Hundred Million Pula (P71.4 billion) in December 2018 to Sixty Five Billion, Three Hundred Million Pula (P65.3 billion) in December 2019.
The reserves declined further in 2020, falling by 2.3 percent to Sixty Three Billion, Seven Hundred Million Pula (P63.7 billion) in July 2020. This was revealed by President Masisi during State of the Nation Address in November last year.
The decrease was mainly due to foreign exchange outflows associated with Government obligations and economy-wide import requirements.
However latest statistics(October 2020) from Bank of Botswana reveal that Botswana’s foreign reserves are estimated at P58.4 billion, with government’s share of these funds significantly low.
Government has since introduced several measures to contain costs and control expenditure with the most recent intervention being the halting of recruitment in government departments and parastatals.
Furthermore, Value Added Tax has been signaled to go up from 12% to 14% in April this year with more hikes and service fees anticipated as government embarks on unprecedented domestic revenue mobilization.
Botswana Stock Exchange listed hotel group Cresta Marakanelo Limited (“CML” or “the Company”) announced the signing of a lease agreement for Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel & Convention Centre, which will see CML extend its footprint by adding the 4 star Gaborone property to its already impressive portfolio. The agreement is subject to regulatory approvals therefore the effective date of the transaction is expected to be 1 February 2021.
CML brings a wealth of expertise to the lease and despite the difficult year for the tourism and hospitality industry, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, CML remains confident in the recovery of the sector and the need to invest in expanding the Company’s footprint.
CML Managing Director, Mr Mokwena Morulane commented: “Our continued efforts to improve our offerings, understand the market dynamics and modern day trends in the face of global challenges, means we are ready for the changing face of tourism and international travel, and this addition to the Cresta portfolio signals our confidence in the future.
“Despite the headwinds faced in 2020, Management has continued to focus on projects that enhance CML’s product offering such as the refurbishments at Cresta Mowana Safari Resort & Spa in the tourism capital Kasane and the ongoing refurbishment of Cresta Marang Residency in Francistown. The signing of the lease for the 4 star Phakalane Golf Estate Hotel & Conference Centre is a great addition to the Cresta portfolio and will unlock shareholder value in the future.
“We remain vigilant to value-enhancing opportunities including acquisitions or leases, after having reconsidered our pipeline against current and expected market conditions.”
Commenting on the lease agreement, the Chief Executive Officer, Mr S Parthiban, speaking on behalf of Phakalane noted; “No hotel chain holds as much expertise in the region, understands our local culture and tastes and what hospitality is about better than Cresta Marakanelo Limited. We believe that the renovations done to the property has made Phakalane Hotel and Convention Centre a unique product in Botswana and at par with international facilities. We believe that this lease will benefit not only us as Phakalane , but the market in general as Cresta has run hotels successfully in Botswana for over 30 years and is therefore expected to bring new offerings that appeal to the local and international markets as well as the residents and visitors to the Golf Estate. We look forward to a long mutually beneficial relationship with Cresta.”
CML like the rest of the tourism and hospitality industry and the entire value chain was hard hit by lockdowns with the surge of COVID-19. By investing during the low period, the company hopes to realise the future value of spending time in preparing for the new consumer dynamics and behaviour. Despite business interruptions as a result of a six-month long state of emergency and several lock-down periods declared by the Government of Botswana to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Company is starting to record an increase in occupancies, which bodes well for the recovery of the industry and the Company’s future prospects.