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Botswana still stuck with credit-risky paint even towards 2021

Moody's

Renowned credit ratings and analytics institution; Moody’s Investors Service in its 2021 outlook released midweek, maintains the red alert colour it placed on Botswana (A2 negative) five months ago, suggesting that Botswana together with 65 sovereigns in the world have plunged into credit risky status even towards next year.

Moody’s assigns ratings on the basis of assessed risk and the borrower’s ability to make interest payments and its ratings are closely watched by many investors. In simple terms credit agencies asses willingness of debt issuers, like corporations or governments, to meet their financial obligations on time and in full.

In the case of Botswana, this means a lower of negative rating or gloomy outlook puts Botswana at a disadvantage when it comes to securing loans or any credit facility from the international market. This also determines the sentiment of foreign investors. Moody’s is placed with Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Fitch as ‘The Big Three’ credit rating agencies.

In September this year Botswana got a negative outlook on its credit ratings as S&P revised its outlook on Botswana to negative from stable and affirming its ‘BBB+/A-2’ ratings. S& P said that at the time that it expect Botswana’s GDP to contract by 9 percent in 2020 because of the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded by weaker diamond exports.

Botswana which maintained the Moody’s A2 grade since 2001, which is regarded as “Upper medium grade,” got into the red in May this year amid Covid-19 wave- barely two months after the pandemic broke in this country-and got a negative outlook up to now. Moody’s 2021 outlook projects Botswana to remain with the A2 negative outlook tag until next year.

“Our outlook for sovereign creditworthiness in 2021 is negative, reflecting our expectations for the fundamental conditions that will drive sovereign credit over the next 12-18 months. The widespread fallout from the pandemic and the measures adopted by sovereigns to contain it have created an economic, fiscal and social shock that will last into 2021 and beyond,” said Moody’s research released on Wednesday.

The only time Botswana’s credit outlook was A2 positive was in 2007, it has always had a “stable” status which is regarded as good for creditworthiness. The last time Botswana got a “negative” outlook was in 2010 following the aftermath of global recession. Botswana has maintained the “stable” status until May this year.

When getting a bearish outlook despite an affirmation of A2 rating in May, Bank of Botswana explained that the affirmation of the rating, at ‘A2’, is “underpinned by the Government’s still strong, albeit deteriorating, fiscal and debt metrics, in particular the relatively low public debt level, high debt affordability and fiscal and external liquidity buffers that help in mitigating the impact of the coronavirus shock.”

In the same communication the central bank said Botswana’s track record of “fiscal prudence, adherence to the rule of law, robust institutions and effective policy making, as well as the current level of the Pula Fund,” which continue to provide key fiscal and external buffers.

However this week, Moody’s warned that in the near term sovereigns like Botswana with low credit ratings will be the most adversely affected given their lower economic and institutional strength as well as their more limited access to funding compared to sovereigns with stronger credit profiles.

“However, over the medium term, sovereigns across the rating spectrum will face increasingly challenging policy trade-offs triggered or exacerbated by the crisis. These include developing exit strategies from the current supportive policy framework without jeopardizing the economic recovery, as well as structural economic and social reforms that support long-term growth and social cohesion,” Moody’s continued.

Moody’s projects a negative 2021 outlook as pandemic fallout weighs on economic activity, government finances, complicates policy choices. In July, Moody’s reduced its growth forecasts for Botswana and put it on -10.9, saying the rate was in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“Many African governments have limited financial and institutional capacity to absorb the current coronavirus shock,” said Kelvin Dalrymple, a Moody’s Vice President – Senior Credit Officer in July. “The longer-term negative effects on the region’s sovereign credit profiles will leave them with diminished capacity to absorb future shocks.’’

Expected sharpest declines in real GDP growth is said by Moody’s to be because of the impact of domestic restrictions on economic activity and the impact of a fall in global demand in key sectors such as tourism and mining. Botswana’s GDP for the second quarter of 2020, the time when Covid-19 faced off with this country’s population, frowned by 27 percent.

In May, Botswana got its fair share of the shock of Covid-19 effects, when Moody’s affirmed this country’s rating of ‘A2’ for long-term bonds denominated in both domestic and foreign currency, but changed the outlook from stable to negative.

Bank of Botswana said the downgrading by Moody’s is mostly prompted by the risks associated with coronavirus shocks, given Botswana’s strong dependency on the diamond industry for growth, exports and budget revenues.

“The revision of the outlook from stable to negative reflects the increasing risks of lower growth, higher budget deficits and likely resultant increase in government borrowing. In their assessment, Moody’s observed that these adverse effects of COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the current challenges the government faces on fiscal consolidation, could mean further deterioration of fiscal metrics to a level not consistent with the ‘A2’ sovereign credit rating,” explained the central bank then.

Last month when assessing sovereign ability to recovering revenue post coronavirus crisis, Moody’s said that move will be crucial but challenging. Moody’s last month also said resource-rich, like Botswana which is dependent on diamond exports, will also face a large drop in fiscal revenue. In May when Botswana’s outlook became negative, the central bank explained its “strong dependency on the diamonds industry for growth, exports and budget revenues,” said Bank of Botswana.

In the midweek report, Moody’s said there will be far more negative rating actions in 2020 than in 2019. The rating agency highlighted that as of 9 November 2020, 65 (60 %) of our 108 sovereign rating actions have been negative – a higher proportion than in 2019 (20%) and 2018 (30%).

Moody’s further said almost a third (33) of all rating actions in 2020 were downgrades, the highest tally since the actions taken in 2016 in response to the previous oil price shock. According to Moody’s the pandemic drove almost half of all sovereign rating actions in 2020. Out of the 65 negative rating actions, 43 taken on 33 sovereigns (or 23% of all Moody’s-rated sovereigns) were principally driven by the pandemic.

Constrained access to financing drove most of these actions, said Moody’s. The rating agency further said the other drivers were lower growth, particularly in tourism-reliant or otherwise concentrated economies, invariably accompanied by a sharp rise in debt; and the associated steep fall in oil and other commodities’ prices.

Business

MD, Board in BBS battle for supremacy

12th April 2021

Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) moved swiftly this week to suspend BBS Limited from trading its securities following a brawl between Board of Directors and Managing Director, Pius Molefe, which led to corporate governance crisis at the organisation.

In an interesting series of events that unfolded this week, incumbent board Chairperson, Pelani Siwawa-Ndai moved to expel Molefe together with board Secretary, Sipho Showa, who also doubles up as Head of Marketing and Communications.  It is reported that Siwawa-Ndai in her capacity as the board Chairperson wrote letters of dismissals to Molefe and Showa.

Following receipt of letters, the duo sought and was furnished with legal opinion from Armstrong Attorneys advising them that their dismissals were unlawful hence they were told to continue to report to work and carry out their duties.

Documents seen by BusinessPost articulate that in the meeting which was held on the 1st of April, the five outgoing board members, unlawfully took resolutions to extend their contracts by a further 90 days after April 30 2021 as they face tough competition from five other candidates who had expressed interest to run for the elections.

Moreover, at the said meeting, management explained that neither management nor the board have the authority to decline nominations submitted by shareholders or the interested parties which is in line with Companies Act and also BBS Limited constitution.

Molefe also revealed that as management they cautioned the board that it was conflicted and it would be improper for it to influence the election process as it seems they intended to do so.
“Nonetheless, in a totally unprecedented move in the history of BBSL, the board then collectively passed the unlawful resolutions below. Leading to the illegitimate decisions, the board had brazenly directed that its discussions on the Board elections should not be recorded totally violating sound corporate governance,” reads the statement released by management this week.

When giving their legal advice, Armstrong Attorneys noted that notice for the AGM should state individuals proposed to be elected to the board and directors have no legal authority to prevent the process.

Armstrong Attorneys also noted that, “due process” cited by board members are simply to ensure that the five retiring Directors avoid competition from interested candidates to be appointed to the BBS Limited board.  The law firm further opined that the resolution of the 90 day extension of term of the five directors pending re-election or election was unlawful.

Molefe expressed with regret that BBS has been suspended from trading by BSE until the current matter has been resolved. “I am concerned by this development and other potentially harmful actions on the business. As management, we are engaging with stakeholders to mitigate any negative impact on BBS Limited,” expressed a distressed Molefe.

He assured shareholders and the rest of Management that they are working very hard to ensure that the issues are being dealt with in a mature manner.  BBS which hopes to become the first indigenous commercial bank has seen its shares halted barely four months after BSE lifted the trading suspension of shares for BBS following submission of their published 2019 audited financial statements.

According to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the local bourse, Thapelo Tsheole said the halting of shares of BBSL is to maintain fair, efficient and orderly securities trading environment. “The securities have been suspended to allow BBS to provide clarity to the market concerning the recent allegations which have been brought to the attention of the BSE relating to the company’s Board of Directors and senior management,” said Tsheole.

Meanwhile in their audited financial statements for the year ended 31 December 2020, BBS recorded a loss of P14.6 million as at 31 December 2020 compared to the loss of P35.7 million for the comparative year ended 31 December 2019. According to Molefe the year under review was the most challenging for the bank, its shareholders and customers endured the difficult economic environment and the negative impact of the coronavirus.

He revealed that as the bank, they were forced to put in place several measures to ensure that the business withstands the impact of coronavirus and also to cushion mortgage customers from the effects of the pandemic. “Since April 2020 up to the end of December 2020, BBS assisted 555 mortgage customers with a payment holiday,’’ he said.

This is the bank whose total balance sheet declined by 12 percent from P4, 626 billion for the year ended. 31 December 2019 to P4, 088 billion as at 31 December 2020. As if things were not bad enough, total savings and deposits at the bank declined by 14 percent from a balance of P2, 885 billion as at 31 December 2019 to P2, 494 billion as at 31 December 2020.

On a much brighter side, BBSL mortgage loans and advances improved from P3, 401 billion to P3.408 billion with impairment allowance significantly improving to P78, 648 million from P102, 532 million for the year under review, representing a positive variance of 23 percent. BBS maintained a strong capital base with capital adequacy ratios of 26.32% for the year ended 31 December 2020.

Molefe was optimistic and anticipated a positive outcome during the implementation of the new BBS corporate strategy, whose main drive is commercialization of operations, which is in full force.
“It will be spurred on by the positive results we have achieved for the year ended 31 December 2020, and our planned submission of our banking license application to Bank of Botswana which we anticipate to operate as a commercial bank in the third quarter of 2021,” he alluded.

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Business

Mphathi promises people centred, environmentally sensitive new BCL

12th April 2021
CEO of Premium Nickel Resources Botswana: Montwedi Mphathi

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Premium Nickel Resources Botswana (PNRB), Montwedi Mphathi, has said his company will resuscitate the formerly owned BCL assets and deliver a new, sustainable and cutting edge mining operation.

The new mine which will leverage on modern and next generation technology, will be environmentally sensitive and cognisant of the needs of its people and that of the communities around the area of influence.

In a statement last week, Premium Nickel Resources Botswana and its parent company, the Canadian headquartered Premium Nickel Resources announced that they have now completed the Exclusivity Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Liquidator.

The MOU will govern a six-month exclusivity period to complete its due diligence and related purchase agreements on the Botswana nickel-copper-cobalt (Ni-Cu-Co) assets formerly operated by BCL Limited (BCL), that are currently in liquidation.

On February 10, 2021, Lefoko Moagi, the Minister of Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security of Botswana, affirmed in Parliament a press release by the Liquidator for the BCL Group of Companies, stating that PNR was selected as the preferred bidder to acquire assets formerly owned by BCL.

“This is encouraging for the company and for Botswana. Our ambition in this new project dubbed “Tsholofelo” is to redevelop the former BCL assets into a modern, environmentally sensitive, efficient NI-Cu-Co-water producer where sustainability and the people are at the forefront of the decisions we make,” said Mphathi in a statement last Thursday.

“We also understand that no matter how successful we are at building the “New BCL” , our success will only be measured at our ability to create local wealth , skills and support the continued transition of local economy to a longer term sustainable base.”

The next step during the exclusivity period will be the completion of the definitive agreement. Simultaneous to this the PNRB will be conducting additional investigative work on site to further its understanding of the potential of these assets.

Specifically the company will complete an environmental assessment, a metallurgical study, a review of legal and social responsibilities, a review of the mine closure and rehabilitation plans and an on-site inspection of the legacy mining infrastructure and equipment that has been under care and maintenance.

Mphathi said they continue to monitor the global Covid-19 developments noting that they are committed to working with health and safety authorities as a priority and in full respect of all government and local Covid-19 protocol requirements. PNRB has developed Covid-19 travel, living and working protocols in anticipation of moving forward to on site due diligence.

“We will integrate these protocols with the currently applicable protocols of Ministry of Health & Wellness as well as District Health Management Team ( DHMT) and surrounding communities,” reads a statement released by the Gaborone based Premium Nickel Resources team.

PNRB is looking to become a catalyst in participating and building a strong economy for Botswana, with a purpose where respect and trust are core to every single step that will be taken. “Our success will mean following international best-in-class practices for the protection of Botswana’s environment and the focus on its people, building partnerships and earning respect, through cooperation and collaboration,” explains PNRB on its website.

“We are committed to Governance through transparent accountability and open communication within our team and with all our stakeholders.” Mphathi, a former BCL Executive, is widely celebrated for achieving unprecedented profitability at the mine during his tenure as General Manager.

The Serowe-born mining guru obtained a Diploma in Mining Technology from Haileybury School of Mines in Canada. He later obtained a B.Eng. Mining degree from the Technical University of Nova Scotia. Mphathi went on to City University in London, UK and obtained a M.Sc. in Industrial and Administrative Sciences.

Before ascending to the top country managerial role of Premium Nickel Resources. Mphathi was General Manager of Botswana Ash (Botash), Southern Africa’s leading salt and soda ash producer.
He was at some point linked to Debswana top post, which is still to date not substantively filled following the death of Managing Director, Albert Milton, in August 2019.

With Mphathi out of the race and now leading the rebuilding of his former employer, the top post at De Beers- Botswana joint venture is likely to be filled by current acting Managing Director Lynette Armstrong, a seasoned finance executive with unparalleled experience in the extractive industry.

“We are happy to hear that former General Manager of BCL, Mr Montwedi Mphathi, has a relationship with the new Company that intends to resuscitate the mine, he is an experienced Mining Executive who knows BCL better, we want the mine to be brought back to life so that our people can be employed ” said Dithapelo Keorapetse Member of Parliament for Selibe Phikwe West recently in Parliament.

BCL was liquidated in October 2016 following a series of losses and government bailout occasioned by low Copper prices and allegedly poor Investment decisions and maladministration. Recently PNR CEO, Keith Morrison said his team of seasoned experts both from Canada and Botswana are committed to resuscitate the BCL assets and deliver a high performance mining operation.

“The World, Botswana and the mining industry have changed dramatically since mining first started at the former BCL assets in the early 1970s. The nickel-copper-cobalt resources remaining at these mines are now critical metals, required for the continued development of a decarbonized and electrified global economy,” he said.

Morrison added: “As we move forward, it is our goal to demonstrate the potential economics of re-developing a combination of the former BCL assets to produce Ni-Cu-Co and water in a manner that is inclusive of modern environmental, social and corporate governance responsibilities.”

He explained that to attain this, extensive upgrades to infrastructure will be required with an emphasis on safety, sustainability and the application of new technologies to minimize the environmental impact and total carbon footprint for the new operations.

“Our team remains committed to working with the local communities and all of the stakeholders throughout this period and we encourage anyone with questions or feedback to reach out to us directly,” he noted.

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Business

Lucara extends sales deal with Belgian diamond cutter

12th April 2021
Lucara extends HB Antwerp’s contract Signum technologies

Lucara Diamond Corporation, the Canadian 100% owners of iconic Karowe mine, this week announced the extension of its supply deal with Belgian diamond midstream giant HB Antwerp.

The definitive supply agreement is in respect of all diamonds produced in excess. of 10.8 carats in size from its rare gem producing Karowe diamond mine located in the Boteti district of Botswana.
Large, high value diamonds in excess of 10.8 carats in size account for approximately 70% of Lucara’s annual revenue.

Though the Karowe mine has remained fully operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Lucara made a deliberate decision not to tender any of its +10.8 carat inventory after early March 2020 amidst the uncertainty caused by the global crisis.

Under the terms of this novel supply agreement with HB, extended to December 2022, the purchase price paid for each +10.8 carat rough diamond is based on the estimated polished outcome, determined through state of the art scanning and planning technology, with a true up paid on actual achieved polished sales thereafter, less a fee and the cost of manufacturing.

“Lucara is beginning to see the benefits of this strategy in accessing a broader marketplace and delivering regular cash flow based on final polished sales,” said Lucara CEO, Eira Thomas on Wednesday.

“We believe these early results warrant an extension of the arrangement for at least 24 months to determine if superior pricing and market stability for our large, high-value diamonds can be sustained longer term.”

The Canadian junior miner initiated a supply agreement with HB for large stones from its Botswana Karowe mine in July 2020, after pausing its tenders shortly after the Covid-19 pandemic began.
The deal enables Lucara to sell the rough diamonds to HB at a price based on an estimate of the polished outcome, which the companies determine using diamond scanning and planning technology.
Once HB sells the goods, it adjusts the price that Lucara receives based on the actual selling price of the polished, minus a fee and manufacturing costs.

The extended supply deal will follow the same payment terms as the initial agreement, and will be in effect through to December 2022. Lucara said in a statement this week that the agreement also provides increased tax revenue and beneficiation opportunities for the government of Botswana, and creates a streamlined supply chain for Karowe’s rough.

“More than a supply agreement, this collaboration structurally embeds a new transparent and sustainable way of working in the diamond-value chain,” said HB CEO, Oded Mansori.
“For the first time, different partners of the value chain are fully aligned, sharing data and information throughout the process from mine to consumer.”

Mansori added: “We are truly proud with this innovative and straightforward collaboration that has proven itself through the volatile and uncertain reality of 2020. We are confident to achieve even better results during the term of this new contract and demonstrate the power of a true partnership.”

Lucara, which early this year secured extension of Karowe mining license to 2040, announced over P2.4 billion funding for Karowe underground mining expansion project a fortnight ago. The Vancouver headquartered top large diamond producer says this supply agreement deal extension with HB will bring about regular cash flow for Lucara using polished pricing mechanism. Furthermore, the company says the deal has potential revenue upside, particularly suited for Lucara’s large, exceptional diamonds.

In the main, Botswana will benefit increased tax revenue and additional beneficiation opportunities for the Government and communities around Karowe mine. A streamlined supply chain that achieves alignment between Lucara and HB to maximize the value of each +10.8 carat diamond produced at Karowe.

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