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The number of take-home pay salaries in July recorded by the BankservAfrica Take-home Index (BTPI) was 34.8% down year-on-year. June saw a drop of 21% and May was down 14%. This compares to a year-on-year drop in April of just 1%.
The BTPI records the majority of payments from large corporates and a fair number of medium-sized firms that are served by payroll service providers and firm-owned payroll administrators. According to the report, "the recent decrease may not reflect the full impact of salary declines on small firms."
The severe lockdown has weakened corporate balance sheets, with many businesses closing permanently or temporarily. Millions of workers were either placed on reduced pay, unpaid leave (furloughed) or even retrenched with a dire, and forward-reaching, impact on household incomes and expenditure.
July's data show a worsening trend in payroll activity, and hence unemployment. The alarming drop is a lagging indicator of the magnitude of the economic contraction. GDP in the second quarter dropped by 51% qqsaa (quarter on quarter, seasonally adjusted, annualised).
Declining incomes and earnings associated with the economic slump have forced corporates and households to use their savings to service debt and meet costs, including salaries, whilst the vast majority of the indebted have been battling financially, despite low interest rates.
Corporates have indicated in a number of surveys from Stats SA through April to June that their ability to survive on reduced to no income was waning each month, that they were using savings to survive and were also increasingly making use of debt holidays and laying off staff.
Lower demand for goods and services has dented the turnover of corporates, and in turn their ability to offer employee remuneration concomitant with last year, or indeed at all.
Firms, by and large, are still not even operating at pre Covid-19 activity levels. The level of economic activity experienced in Q3.20, and particularly in July, remains below that of Q1.20.
While the impact of the lockdown on the economy was likely underestimated -- and indeed consensus expectations of the contraction in GDP have shifted weaker every month this year since April -- the impact of Covid-19 on the health of the population is proving to be at the low end of countries globally.
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Rand breaks through the key resistance level of R17.00/USD
24 August 2020
Rand reaches R17.00/USD, still driven by a weak dollar in relatively thin market conditions, with the Northern Hemisphere August summer vacation effect weighing on markets
However, this year the directional trend is towards strength for emerging markets in Q3.20, instead of weakness as has been normal. Q3.20 has been underlaid with US dollar weakness on a departure from safe haven assets as markets continue to price in recovery for the global economy, with traders fearful of missing out on this play.
Indeed, market players likely feel that the most severe events this year have already transpired from a risk-off perspective, while the severe shutdowns, and resultant crippling impact to economic activity, has been localised in Q2.20 and by default both Q3.20 and Q4.20 will experience strong recovery.
The rand has battled to convincingly break through the key resistance level of R17.00/USD this morning, reaching R16.98/USD before being rebuffed back above R17.00/USD, and will likely continue to vacillate around R17.00/USD early afternoon.
Against the key crosses the domestic currency is at R20.11/EUR and R22.29/GBP, from a close on Friday of R20.24/EUR and R22.46/GBP, and will likely attempt to pierce R20.00/EUR this week, absent any severe market moving events.
Commodity prices have seen substantial strength, also on market belief that the global economic recovery is firmly underway, bolstering the domestic currency, along with the other commodity currencies, a support which is also likely to persist as long as market participants bet on the global recovery play.
While the rand will struggle to cleanly break through R17.00/USD, as it typically does with any major resistance level, it will also, as usual, take its cue from international events, along with the other emerging market currencies. However, it is likely to finally break through R17.00/USD, in the absence of any significant negative global market events.
So far, the average for the rand is R17.01/USD in Q3.20 to date (and R19.76/EUR and R21.88/GBP), with just over half of Q3.20 now complete. As mentioned last week, the dollar has also been weakened by the delay in US senate approved fiscal stimulus extensions. The senate is due to return from its summer vacation break on 8th September.
The rand could move through R17.00/USD before the end of this month, and begin tracking towards R16.50/USD in the first week of September, but then run into some volatility thereafter. Market risk averse asset sentiment could rise as early as the second week of September on politicking ahead of the US Presidential elections.
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Rand continues to make gains, along with the other commodity currencies
23 Jul 2020
Commodity currencies bolstered also by USD weakness and the climb in the gold price, along with waning risk aversion as global fiscal measures increase
Metals prices are up 15.6% y/y (14.0% m/m), and have been accelerating since May (Economist Commodities Price Index), while industrial commodities’ prices returned positive growth against a year ago for the first time this year in July (currently up 10.4% y/y), as has the overall commodities price index at 10.5% y/y (all Economist commodity price indices).
The gold price continues to see a boom, attempting to exceed its all-time high of US$1 921/oz in 2011, driven by the huge scale of QE in the US which has weakened the US dollar. US dollar weakness places upwards pressure on the gold price given the yellow metal’s measure of real value (while US QE increases the supply of dollars).
The climb in the gold price has aided the strengthening trend in the rand, with the domestic currency reaching R16.34/USD today, gaining also against the euro and UK pound, of R18.90/EUR and R20.77/GBP respectively. ECB QE is seen to likely weaken the euro, with a massive increase in euros of €1.4trillion planned until the middle 2021.
While QE has bolstered portfolio inflows into EM’s, and lifted the gold price and market expectations for global recovery, QE has historically not necessarily delivered on substantial economic growth (due to its suppressing effect on the appetite for lending from banks), and so commodity currencies, including the rand, are likely to remain volatile as the global recovery proves uneven.
That is, the global recovery is likely to be unsynchronised and patchy in nature, causing market sentiment to wax and wane, as data releases recording various sectors and countries’ economic performances do, with commodity prices and currencies, as well as EM currencies, experiencing volatility as a result.
Markets however currently believe a linear global economic recovery is underway, with exuberance also on positive developments for a vaccine against Covid-19, but disappointing economic data, another spike in Covid-19 infections and/or any other event/s perceived to likely disrupt the economic recovery would have a negative effect on EM and commodity currencies.
While the rand could see some further strength from current levels, it has nevertheless been strengthening very rapidly of late, and is in overbought territory, while foreigners have been purchasing SA government bonds, with CPI inflation last recorded at a historical low of 2.1% y/y (May), while the yield on the R2030 is at 9.15%.
However, SA’s inflation rate will rise toward 3.0% y/y in the next two prints, while SA’s rapidly deteriorating government finances, resultant credit rating downgrades and SARB bond buying cap will see the rand unlikely to gain over the medium-term. In the short-term, a correction is likely, although the domestic currency may continue to track towards R16.00/USD first.
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The unemployment rate rose to 30.1% in the first quarter of the year
23 June 2020
South Africa’s unemployment rate rose to 30.1% in the first quarter of 2020, from 29.1% in Q4.19 and is over 2.0% higher than Q1.19’s unemployment figure of 27.6%.
Additionally, the expanded unemployment rate, (which includes individuals who desire employment regardless of whether they are actively seeking work) increased to 39.7% in Q1.20, from 38.7% in the fourth quarter of 2019, which is a marked 8.8% increase on levels logged during the same period in 2008. This reflects SA’s dismal labour market situation where the chance of finding work is very low, while the costs related to looking for employment are high.
Indeed, even prior to the current global financial crisis, bought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, South Africa had one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, with weak economic growth, underpinned by structural inefficiencies and policy uncertainty driving the country’s mounting unemployment crisis.
The unprecedented situation we find ourselves in at the moment will serve to exacerbate the dire domestic unemployment predicament significantly as business closures and cutbacks accelerate. Consequently, we expect the unemployment rate to average in excess of 36.0% over the medium term (2020-2022).
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Year-on-year GDP at risk of contracting by between 8% and 10%
26 May 2020
With the lengthening of the lockdown (May level 4, June level 3), from April’s virtually total shutdown of level 5, Q2.20 GDP could see a sharp contraction of around -50% qqsaa or worse.
However, the data used was for Q1.20 and does not capture the worsening conditions of the extended lockdown, globally or domestically. With the lengthening of the lockdown (May level 4, June level 3), from April’s virtually total shutdown of level 5, Q2.20 GDP could see a sharp contraction of around -50% qqsaa or worse, while Q3.20 is likely to see less of a rebound than previously anticipated.
With the current progression of one month for each level, July and August will see some continued restrictions on economic activity, and the recovery in Q3.20 is likely to be much more subdued than originally thought. Instead of a rebound of 40% qqsaa in Q3.20 it could instead be around 15% qqsaa.
Furthermore, it is not certain that the levels will see a linear monthly progression, levels could go up as well as down, while companies themselves are at risk of temporary closures if infections occur.
The use of the Q1.20 leading indicator (released today) as a pointer of future business activity has been dramatically diminished by the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
We previously expected economic growth of -4.8% y/y for 2020, but now believe it could come out closer to between -8.0% y/y to -10% y/y, if not worse. Much will however depend on the progression of opening up the economy. The very slow pace so far has driven our worsening forecasts, as has the sheer length of the lockdown to date, which has seen incomes fall (both due to rising unemployment and firms cutting back on staff renumeration versus last year), and demand to collapse.
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About the author
Chief Economist of Investec Ltd
Annabel holds an MCom Cum Laude (Economics and econometrics) and has worked in the macroeconomic, risk, financial market and econometric fields, among others, for around 25 years. Working in the economic field at Investec, Annabel heads up a team, which focusses on the macroeconomic, financial market and global impact on the domestic environment. She authors a wide range of in-house and external articles published both abroad and in South Africa.
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