Prior to the climax of America’s globally anticipated polls, foreign exchange markets looked like the local currency. The Pula was caught in between as a wind of volatility shook two of its most dependent currencies, the US Dollar and the South African Rand.
Botswana might be far from the US or seem not affected by the recent polls which took place about 7936.59 miles from its borders, but the Pula finds itself participating indirectly in the US polls because of the dynamics of the foreign exchange market which places the local currency in a trade synonym with the US dollar and the Rand.
The Pula is pegged against the Rand and the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) which consists of the US dollar, Japanese Yen, Chinese Renminbi, the Euro and the British Pound. Botswana’s current exchange rate arrangement is that the Pula is pegged to a currency basket comprising of the Rand and the SDR, in a forward-looking crawling band mechanism.
Early this year President Mokgweetsi Masisi decided to maintain the Pula basket weights at 45 percent Rand and 55 percent SDR, at the recommendation of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and Bank of Botswana. The ministry that time said pegging the Pula against major currencies ensures its stability and protects investments against volatile currency fluctuations.
The ministry further stated that the annual review of the Pula Exchange Rate Policy Framework is undertaken by the government, with a view to maintain a stable and competitive real effective exchange rate of the Pula. Furthermore, a downward rate of crawl of 1.51 per cent per annum has been implemented, since the beginning of this year.
This week, building up to the much anticipated US polls counting, the Pula was in the middle of its brothers, the Rand and US Dollar in the mist of uncertainty. “This elections are driving the foreign exchange market a bit crazy. The results will determine if we end up with a weaker or stronger dollar. If Biden wins then the weaker and stronger if Trump wins. Pula dynamics will still be driven to a large extend by Rand performance though,” said Gomolemo Basele, Quantitative Analyst at RMB Global Markets Research in a short chat with this publication.
The morning of 30 October 2020, just before the much hysterical US polls, the Rand opened at 1.4307 to the Pula. According to RMB Global Markets Research’s Botswana Daily Update, this was after the South African finance minister delivered the Medium-Term Budget Speech, noting that the country needs to take action to avoid a sovereign debt crisis. According to RMB Global Markets Research, the Rand came under pressure, touching low levels yesterday.
However on Tuesday morning, the Rand edged higher slightly against the Pula, opening the day stronger at 1.4190/1.4220 as the US elections drew nearer to counting. On the same Tuesday, Joe Biden was leading his nemesis Donald Trump in the highly contest elections clouded by a cloud of uncertainty.
RMB economist, Siobhan Redford, when taking the Pula into this context and delving into American politics said, while some states have seemingly been won over by Biden from Trump, “…a Biden trade versus Trump trade will result in choppy markets as a lot depends on the outcome, with the fiscal stimulus plan also weighing heavily.
A Biden win would probably result in a larger stimulus package being put forth as opposed to a Republican win. This morning, the Dollar opens little changed at 0.0875/77 to the Pula,” he said midweek. When doing another research update on the Pula’s performance against the Dollar or Rand, Redford on Wednesday morning said the Rand opened little changed at 1.4140 to the Pula as election results from the US come under much scrutiny with counting far from over.
“A very well contested race has caused volatility in the market, with the Rand weakening overnight but later reverting to stronger levels. This morning, the Dollar opens little changed from yesterday’s (Tuesday) close at 0.0880 to the Pula. Ahead of the Fed’s rate decision later today, the general sentiment is that it will be a non-event, with the Fed expected to leave rates unchanged. We expect volatility around the election results to continue as announcements of state winners trickle in,” said Redford during the counting of votes.
In reaching the apex where a Biden upset was much more likely than Trump consolidation of power, the Democrat elect led his Republican counterpart on votes, but seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate were a bit tied on Thursday. Protests, and riots erupted as Trump was crying foul, lodging a legal appeal against the State on irregularities in counting. That time the Dollar opened at a rate of 0.0886/88 to the Pula, a record low as markets find comfort in a Biden win.
Head of RMB Global Markets Research, Nema Ramkhelawan-Bhana, said risk assets are impervious to US election noise but the risk rally is devoid of virus concerns, even though momentum will probably slow. In the South African economy or the Rand, she said the country is awaiting presidential guidance amid concerns of a second wave.
In a research released on Friday, Ramkhelawan-Bhana wrote that the dollar lost further ground against the pula on Thursday ahead of the Fed decision and amid heightened market caution as US election counting continued. She further observed that volatility increased as either candidate could win. This came with the dollar dropping from opening levels of 0.0884 to the day’s low of 0.0890.
But the Rand edged up against the Pula, according to Ramkhelawan-Bhana, taking its cue from the USD/ZAR performance, which firmed below the 16.00 level. RMB research team expect the Pula/USD to open this morning(Thursday) little changed from closing levels at 0.0888/90,while Pula/Rand should open at 1.4062/93 compared with 1.4048/83 at close. In her analysis, Ramkhelawan-Bhana said there is a strong air of fatigue permeating through global stocks and bonds. She believes a Democratic flip of the Senate could refresh stimulus hopes and enthuse exhausted investors.
The RMB lead researcher observed that Chinese assets are being priced for a more conservative approach to US-Sino relations in the event of a Biden win. “A dicey play. While the former VP advocates a more multilateral approach, lightening trade restrictions might not be entirely in America’s best interests. The relationship will remain tenuous regardless of the presidential outcome, limiting downside on US Dollar /Chinese Yen,” she said.
The risks and Covid-19 watching US elections furore
According to Ramkhelawan-Bhana the rand market is baffled by recent spot movements. The local unit’s breach of USD/ZAR16.00 is bizarre considering SA’s fundamental weakness, though the trade surplus might be a point of differentiation, said Ramkhelawan-Bhana. She said the currency’s carry trade appeal, though the extent of the rally is more than anticipated given the overarching global risk.
“Virus concerns will outlive the furore over US elections, creating intermittent bouts of risk aversion to which markets are well accustomed. Whether that drives the Rand weaker is questionable, given its recent resilience to EUR/USD’s dip in the wake of the European lockdowns. Although risk assets have rallied strongly, the momentum will probably fade as the US elections play out, which should allow the Rand to consolidate at current levels against the major crosses,” said Ramkhelawan-Bhana.
There is a gloomy expectation in the South African economy for President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce Covid-19 restrictions, fears by economists like Ramkhelawan-Bhana is that this could unsettle Rand investors. The good thing is that this is unlikely to dislodge the Rand from its 50c trading range.
Despite Covid-19 interrupting trade worldwide, exporting companies in Botswana which benefited from the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) services realised P2.96 billion in export earnings during the period from April 2020 to March 2021.
In the preceding financial year, the sale of locally manufactured products in foreign markets had registered export revenue of P2, 427 billion against a target of P3, 211 billion BITC, which celebrates 10 years since establishment, continues to carry out several initiatives targeted towards expanding the Botswana export base in line with Botswana’s desire to be an export led economy, underpinned by a robust export promotion programme in line with the National Export Strategy.
The main products exported were swamp cruiser boats, pvc tanks and pvc pipes, ignition wiring sets, semi-precious stones, veterinary medicines, hair braids, coal, textiles (towels and t-shirts) and automobile batteries. These goods were destined mainly for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Austria, Germany, and Namibia.
With Covid-19 still a problem, BITC continues to roll out targeted virtual trade promotion missions across the SADC region with a view to seeking long-lasting market opportunities for locally manufactured products.
Recently, the Centre facilitated participation for Botswana companies at the Eastern Cape Development Council (ECDC) Virtual Export Symposium, the Botswana-Zimbabwe Virtual Trade Mission, the Botswana-Zambia Virtual Trade Mission, Botswana-South Africa Virtual Buyer/Seller Mission as well as the Botswana-Namibia Virtual Trade Mission.
BITC has introduced an e-Exporting programme aimed at assisting Botswana exporters to conduct business on several recommended e-commerce platforms. Due to the advent of COVID-19, BITC is currently promoting e-trade among companies through the establishment of e-commerce platforms and is assisting local companies to embrace digitisation by adopting e-commerce platforms to reach export markets as well as assisting local e-commerce platform developers to scale up their online marketplaces.
During the 2019/2020 financial year, BITC embarked on several initiatives targeted at growing exports in the country; facilitation of participation of local companies in international trade platforms in order to enhance export sales of local products and services into external markets.
BITC also helped in capacity development of local companies to compete in global markets and the nurturing of export awareness and culture among local manufacturers in order to enhance their skills and knowledge of export processes; and in development and implementation of trade facilitation tools that look to improve the overall ease of doing business in Botswana.
As part of building export capacity in 2019/20, six (6) companies were selected to initiate a process to be Organic and Fair Trade Certified. These companies are; Blue Pride (Pty) Ltd, Motlopi Beverages, Moringa Technology Industries (Pty) Ltd, Sleek Foods, Maungo Craft and Divine Morula.
In 2019 seven companies which were enrolled in the Botswana Exporter Development Programme were capacitated with attaining BOBS ISO 9001: 2015 certification. Three (3) companies successfully attained BOBS ISO 9001:2015 certification. These were Lithoflex (Pty) Ltd, General Packaging Industries and Power Engineering.
BITC’s annual flagship exhibition, Global Expo Botswana (GEB) to create opportunities for trade and strategic synergies between local and international companies. The Global Expo Botswana) is a premier business to business exposition that attracts FDI, expansion of domestic investment, promotion of exports of locally produced goods and services and promotion of trade between Botswana and other countries.
The portal also provides information on; measures, legal documents, and forms and procedures needed by Botswana companies that intend on doing business abroad. BITC continues to assist both potential and existing local manufacturing and service entities to realise their export ambitions. This assistance is pursued through the ambit of the Botswana Exporter Development Programme (BEDP) and the Trade Promotion Programme.
BEDP was revised in 2020 in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a vision to developing a diversified export-based economy. The programme focuses mostly on capacitating companies to reach export readiness status.
Prices for goods and services in this country continue to increase, with the latest figures from Statistics Botswana showing that in May 2022, inflation rate rose to 11.9 percent from 9.6 percent recorded in April 2022.
According to Statistics Botswana update released this week, the largest upward contributions to the annual inflation rate in May 2022 came from increase in the cost of transport (7.2 percent), housing, water, electricity, gas & other Fuels (1.4 percent), food & non-alcoholic beverages (1.1 percent) and miscellaneous goods & services (0.8 percent).
With regard to regional inflation rates between April and May 2022, the Rural Villages inflation rate went up by 2.5 percentage points, from 9.6 percent in April to 12.1 percent in May 2022, according to the government owned statistics entity.
In the monthly update the entity stated that the Urban Villages inflation rate stood at 11.8 percent in May 2022, a rise of 2.4 percentage points from the April rate of 9.4 percent, whereas the Cities & Towns inflation rate recorded an increase of 1.9 percentage points, from 9.9 percent in April to 11.8 percent in May.
Commenting on the national Consumer Price Index, the entity stated that it went up by 2.6 percent, from 120.1 in April to 123.2 in May 2022. Statisticians from the entity noted that the transport group index registered an increase of 7.3 percent, from 134.5 in April to 144.2 in May, mainly due to the rise in retail pump prices for petrol and diesel by P1.54 and P2.74 per litre respectively, which effected on the 13th of May 2022.
The food & non-alcoholic beverages group index rose by 2.6 percent, from 118.6 in April 2022 to 121.6 in May 2022 and this came as a result of increase in prices of oils & fats, vegetables, bread & cereal, mineral waters, soft drinks, fruits & vegetables juices, fish (Fresh, Chilled & Frozen) and meat (Fresh, Chilled & Frozen), according to the Statisticians.
The Statisticians said the furnishing, household equipment & routine maintenance group index rose by 1.0 percent, from 111.6 in April 2022 to 112.7 in May 2022 and this was attributed to a general increase in prices of household appliances, glassware, tableware & household utensils and goods & services for household maintenance.
The prices for clothing & footwear group index moved from 109.4 to 110.4, registering a rise of 0.9 percent during the period under review. Bank of Botswana has projected higher inflation in the short term, associated with the likelihood of further increases in domestic fuel prices in response to persistent high international oil prices and added that the possible increase in public service salaries could add also upward pressure to inflation in this country.
In the latest June 2022 global economic prospects, released last week the World Bank has warned that low global economic growth and economic activity in global commodity markets such as China and Europe could negatively affect export revenues for Botswana and other Sub Saharan countries.
Recent data from Statistics Botswana show that Botswana’s exports destined to the global markets such as Asia and the European Union (EU) on monthly basis accounts for around 60.1 percent and 20.1 percent respectively.
The World Bank last week lowered its 2022 projections of global economic growth and indicated that the new forecasts could be bad news for countries like Botswana who are dependent on export mineral revenues. The Bank noted that just over two years after COVID-19 caused the deepest global recession since World War II, the world economy is again in danger and stated that this time it is facing high inflation and slow growth at the same time.
In the recent June projections, the bank lowered its forecast of global economic growth from the January 4.1 percent to 2.1 percent. “Our June forecasts reflect a sizable downgrade to the outlook: global growth is expected to slow sharply from 5.7 percent in 2021 to 2.9 percent this year. This also reflects a nearly one-third cut to our January 2022 forecast for this year of 4.1 percent,” a team of World Bank economists noted in the June 2022 Global Economic Prospects.
The World Bank indicated that exports from Botswana and other Sub Saharan countries could suffer from a substantial deceleration of activity in China and Europe. The Bank noted that exporters of industrial metals, crude oil, and ores such as Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, South Africa, and Zambia could suffer from a substantial deceleration of activity in China.
On the other hand a sharp contraction of growth in the euro area could hurt exporters of agricultural products such as beef, coffee, tea, tobacco, cotton, and textiles from Botswana, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Malawi. “The faster-than-expected deceleration of the global economy and increased volatility of commodity prices could hurt many SSA commodity exporters,” said World Bank President David Malpass.
Malpass indicated that subdued growth in the global markets for Botswana and other Sub Saharan exports will likely persist throughout the decade because of weak investment in most of the world.
He noted that with inflation now running at multi-decade highs in many countries and supply expected to grow slowly, inflation could remain higher for longer than currently anticipated. “Even if a global recession is averted, the pain of stagflation could persist for several years— unless major supply increases are set in motion. Amid the war in Ukraine, surging inflation, and rising interest rates, global economic growth is expected to slump in 2022. Several years of above-average inflation and below-average growth are now likely,” said Malpass.