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The Pula willy-wally as volatile winds shakes Rand and Dollar amid uncertain US polls

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.

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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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