28 Jul 2021
Fiscal riot relief lifts market sentiment
Joint briefing by Dept of Finance, National Treasury and others gives clarity on where the money will come from
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The violence earlier this month will likely cost South Africa's GDP about R49bn in real terms. But this blow will likely be softened by global macro-economic factors, including commodity prices and the pace of Covid recovery, that are working in the country's favour. Increased tax revenue receipts as a result of these factors will help to fund relief efforts that are desperately needed in the wake of the carnage.
The second quarter saw significant growth in commodity prices, which benefited both exports and tax revenues. Commodity prices were up 14.8% q/q overall (as per the Economist Commodities price index), bouyed by a substantial 19.2% lift in metals prices. Both of these upticks exceeded the respective increases of 14.7% q/q and 15.4% q/q in Q1.21.
Revenue collections for Q2.21 to date are up on estimates, with SARS stating today that tax revenue collections were very strong in the first (fiscal) quarter, exceeding those of the prior two fiscal year’s first quarters. The revenue boon came from a number of sources, including VAT and the mining sector.
Additionally, corporate tax revenue from the financial sector was higher than expected, while SARS has also had a better than anticipated performance in revenue recovery (well above that estimated) from compliance activities, also boosting the overall outcome.
SARS added that this greater than expected revenue collection, compared to that budgeted for in February 2021, is expected to adequately cover the cost of a number of measures announced today to provide R36.2bn in fiscal assistance to lessen the impact of the riots and looting.
In particular, the R350 social relief of distress grant is extended until end March 2022, which will cost R27bn, while the cost to Sasria from the riots damage is estimated at R15bn to R20bn (the Sasria balance sheet has R9.7bn, while R6.5bn is to come from reinsurance).
The police will be allocated an additional R250m, SANDF R750m. National Treasury highlights there will be no additional borrowing to fund this fiscal package (allaying rating concerns), with reprioritisations and revenue collections better than expected in February.
However, prior to the riots a better than expected economic outcome for 2021 of 4.5% was likely, and government’s fiscal position was expected to improve by R50bn to R100bn on the strong tax ensuing from the robust growth environment and strong commodity price effect .
With the damage to the economy and tax base from the violent riots, and consolidating commodity prices, the revenue collection overrun is now likely to be closer to R50bn, while the fiscal package announced today will not fully cover the losses faced by businesses.
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Retail environment improved in May
14 July 2021
Recent lockdown restrictions and riots will weigh on Q3.21 confidence
Retail trade sales rose by 15.8% y/y in May, ahead of consensus expectations of 12.3% y/y (Bloomberg). The lift was largely underpinned by base effects following May 2020’s -11.9% y/y decline when lockdown restrictions were heightened, albeit less severe than April 2020.
Measured on a month-on-month seasonally adjusted (mmsa) basis retail trade sales increased by 2.1%, following contractions of -0.6% and -4.4% mmsa in April and March, respectively.
According to the BER’s retail trade survey for Q2.21 which reports on consumer expectations and activity, confidence amongst retailers climbed markedly in Q2.21, to a six year high, on “improved sales volumes and strengthened pricing power” leading to higher profitability. Specifically, retailers selling semi-durable and durable goods benefitted from expenditure by higher income segments of the market, who used accumulated savings (not used on leisure and transport during lockdown) to improve their work-from-home experience. The survey was however conducted between the 12 and 31 May, before lockdown restrictions were tightened.
Lockdown restrictions, in response to spikes in infection rates and the subsequent loosening of measures when cases recede, have a direct impact on consumption patterns as evinced by BankservAfrica’s Economic Transaction Index (BETI), which tracks the volume and value of South Africa’s electronic payments interbank transactions routed through BankservAfrica. Specifically, the index which exhibited significant declines in Q2.20 when the most severe constraints were in place gradually improved in line with the easing of lockdown restrictions.
The BETI for May indicates that the number of “actual transactions was 108.2 million, an improvement of 17.2% on a year ago”. Moreover, the total number of estimated monthly payments have risen by 13.1% between May 2021 and May 2020, as a number of workers have returned to their jobs over the year.
While the marked recovery in the salary base is positive for HCE, uncertainty around the current situation playing out in the country will weigh heavily on confidence, hindering the growth trajectory.
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Annual mining production buoyed by base effects
13 July 2021
Mining production rose by a further 21.9% y/y in May, buoyed by base effects.
Specifically, production fell by -21.7% y/y in May 2020 when restrictions on production (although to a notably lesser degree than April 2020) were still in place and global growth concerns were heightened. May’s outcome was below consensus expectations of 31.5% y/y (Bloomberg).
The lift in production was largely broad based, with all minerals and mineral groups except coal and nickel experiencing some level of growth. The largest positive contributors were PGMs, iron ore and gold. The production of PGMs rose by a further 27% y/y in May, adding 6.1% points to the top line reading, on a robust recovery in the automative market.
Similarly, iron ore output increased by 48.4% y/y, adding a further 4.0% points, assisted by the rebound in global trade and growth following the fallout from Covid-19, which has led in turn to a sharp increase in industrial demand. Constrained seaborne supply has also aided the iron ore market, with prices up over 26.0% since January 2021.
Base metals in general are up notably, boosted by the pick-up in global manufacturing activity and new order growth. This is evidenced by the results of JP Morgan’s latest global PMI manufacturing survey for June which indicates that “global manufacturing remained in a strong growth phase in June, with output, new orders and employment all rising and business optimism at robust levels”, according to Markit.
SA’s mining sector, a key commodity exporter continues to benefit from the strong rise in demand for commodities as global growth rebounds and has played a key role in SA’s growth momentum as some other sectors of the economy continue to flounder. Notwithstanding this, the domestic mining sector continues to face numerous challenges hindering its ability to take full advantage of the current surge in demand. Key amongst these are electricity supply limitations, although announcements pertaining to increased generation are positive for the energy intensive sector. Furthermore, logistical constraints, especially rail and port issues continue to impede activity and export potential.
Further stringent lockdown restrictions (although not our expected case) coupled with the civil unrest currently playing out in the country remain downside risks to the country’s growth trajectory.
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New vehicle sales up 20.2% in June
1 July 2021
New vehicle sales rose by 6 387 units or 20.2% y/y in June as exports benefit from the global economic rebound.
Aggregate new vehicle sales rose by 6,387 units or 20.2% y/y in June. The reading, while positive, is largely buoyed by statistical base factors. Specifically, new vehicle sales plummeted by around -31.0% y/y in June 2020, when restrictions were placed on economic activity. When measured on a month-on-month basis, however, sales fell by -0.8% in June.
New passenger car sales, which make up over 60% of total sales, grew by 28% y/y in June and by a modest 1.7% m/m. While the economy is recovering from lows experienced in Q2.20, with Q1.21’s GDP reading higher than anticipated, many consumers still remain financially constrained. Consumer confidence is subdued, having faltered in Q2.21, with respondents in the FNB/BER consumer confidence survey less confident about the economic outlook as the third wave takes hold. Additionally, fewer respondents deem it an appropriate time to purchase big ticket, non-durable items (like vehicles).
The light commercial vehicle category (incl. bakkies and mini-buses) which makes up a further 30% of domestic sales rose by 9.6% when compared to June 2020, but declined, albeit marginally on a m/m basis. Small and medium sized businesses have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, with a number having shut their doors permanently. Medim commercial vehicle sales are up moderately m/m, however the heavy commercial category (which includes extra-heavy and buses) is down -7.0% m/m. A rebound in fixed investment should support growth in these categories.
Moreover, export sales, which are crucial to South Africa’s automotive sector, are up 65.8% y/y year-to-date. The pick-up in global growth, which is forecast to grow by 6.0% this year, according to the IMF should continue to support SA’s export market.
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SA's trade account surplus beats expectations
30 June 2021
The surplus on the merchandise trade account widened to R54.6bn in May, from R51.25bn in April.
Supported by a 1.5% m/m lift in exports, SA's May trade surplus beat Bloomberg consensus expectations of a R49.6bn. Exports totalled R163.51bn, outpacing imports of R108.91bn (-0.9% m/m) .
A review of the trade highlights released by SARS suggests that the modest monthly pick-up in exports was buoyed by vegetable products as well as a recovery in global demand for vehicles and transport equipment. While some key import categories grew over the period, there was a notable decline in precious metals and stones.
May’s favourable reading is consistent with the results of JP Morgan’s global manufacturing PMI survey, which revealed that “new order growth accelerated to an 11-year high” in May. This despite persistent supply side constraints and accelerating input costs. Furthermore, the outlook for the sector remains favourable, “with manufacturers forecasting further increases in output over the next 12 months."
Indeed, global growth is forecast to rise by 6.0% this year, according to the IMF, supported in part by widespread vaccination drives and extensive fiscal support measures in advanced economies. Robust commodity prices and increasing global demand should continue to buoy export growth
However, while imports have been propped up by the rand and US dollar-denominated oil price, domestic consumption and investment activity remain relatively subdued. Furthermore, according to results from the May ABSA purchasing managers index, domestic purchasing managers “turned slightly less optimistic about the trading environment going forward." This is possibly driven by heightened concerns over the third wave. A rapid, efficient vaccination rollout is imperative to boost confidence and place SA on a sustainable growth path.
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CPI inflation accelerated to 5.2% y/y
23 June 2021
CPI inflation increased to 5.2% y/y in May from 4.4% y/y previously on fuel price base effects and the higher oil price this year
The surplus on the merchandise trade account widened moderately to R54.6bn in May, from R51.25bn (revised) in April. The outcome was notably above Bloomberg consensus expectations of a R49.6bn surplus, supported by a 1.5% m/m lift in exports to R163.51bn, which outpaced imports of R108.91bn (-0.9%m/m) .
A review of the trade highlights released by SARS, suggests that the modest monthly pick-up in exports was largely buoyed by vegetable products and vehicles and transport equipment as global auto demand continues to recover. On the import side, while some categories of key imports grew over the period, a notable decline in precious metals and stones largely drove the contraction on the import side.
May’s favourable reading is supported by the results from JP Morgan’s global manufacturing PMI survey, which revealed that “new order growth accelerated to an 11-year high” in May. This despite persistent supply side constraints and accelerating input costs. Furthermore, the outlook for the sector remains favourable, “with manufacturers forecasting further increases in output over the next 12 months”.
Indeed, global growth is forecast to rise by 6.0% this year, according to the IMF supported in part by the widespread vaccination drive and extensive fiscal support measures in advanced economies. Robust commodity prices and increasing global demand should continue to buoy export growth
However, while imports have been propped up by the rand and US dollar denominated oil price, domestic consumption and investment activity remain relatively subdued. Moreover, according to results from the May ABSA purchasing managers index, domestic purchasing managers “turned slightly less optimistic about the trading environment going forward”, according to the BER. Heightened concerns over the third wave could be driving this. A rapid, efficient vaccination rollout is imperative to boost confidence and place SA on a sustainable growth path.
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Commodity prices consolidate slightly after a heady run
15 June 2021
Commodity prices remain robust in June despite a slight weakening in industrials and metals
Commodity prices essentially retained their levels overall in June. On a disaggregated basis, however, some weakness in industrials and metals was counteracted by slightly higher agricultural food prices, with the result that commidities overall consolidated following a heady run that has lasted almost twelve months.
Commodity prices reached ten-year highs this year, very close to the 2011 peak of the 2000s commodity boom. This earlier commodity super cycle was driven by both accelerating demand from the rapidly growing emerging market economies (particularly the BRIC nations) and supply side constrains in the face of protracted growth in demand.
The Economist commodities price index shows a rise in 2000 from close to 60 index points to 189.7 in 2011. By comparison, the the index since April rose from 100.7 to 188.8. While currently not a super cycle, the acceleration since last year has been rapid.
Year on year, the index shows commodity prices are currently up 76% overall, while metals prices are up 93% y/y and industrials are 78% higher than a year ago. Non-food agricultural prices are 81% higher y/y.
Food commodity prices are only up a relatively modest 41% y/y, but it's a strong showing for a category which experienced deflation in many periods since 2011, driven higher over the last twelve months by growing global demand, along with the other commodities.
Indeed, the global PMI reached a fifteen year high in May, with demand for new orders and production output at the fastest pace since 2006, led by the US, the Euro area and the UK (as measured by the J.P. Morgan Global Composite Output Index).
International trade has strengthened materially, with new export business at a peak in the global composite J.P. Morgan PMI’s series, evidencing strong demand pressures persist, although supply shortages remain, and that price inflation is at its quickest pace since 2008.
With the FOMC meeting tomorrow evening, SA time, market expectations are for the Fed to potentially provide some deeper insight on its inflation views, which could feed market concerns on the timing of future QE tapering, although the Fed is likely to be judicious in this.
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Annual manufacturing production rose sharply on base effects
10 June 2021
Manufacturing production climbed by an unprecedented 87.9% y/y in April, following March’s 5.2% y/y lift
Manufacturing production climbed by an unprecedented 87.9% y/y in April, following March’s 5.2% y/y (revised) lift, on the low statistical base effect produced in April 2020, triggered by Covid-19 related restrictions.
Specifically, manufacturing production plummeted by -48.7% y/y in April 2020 when rigorous level 5 measures were imposed to curb the infection rate, leading to a widespread halt in economic activity, except for those companies involved in the production and provision of essential goods and services.
Seasonal factors, with numerous public holidays falling within the month of April likely, largely underpinned the month-on-month decline in output. However, on a quarter on quarter seasonally adjusted basis (qqsa), which is the measure used to calculate GDP, manufacturing output was still up by 0.9%.
A disaggregation of the manufacturing data indicates that the food and beverage sector, as well as the motor vehicle and parts category, were primarily responsible for the quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted lift. Combined they added 2.0% points, on the back of growth of 3.4% qqsa and 11.1% qqsa respectively. Conversely petroleum and chemical products' output fell by -4.0% qqsa and based on its significant weighting in the manufacturing basket, detracted -0.8% points from the outcome.
Advance indications provided by the Absa PMI manufacturing survey for May indicate that business activity picked up again in May, boosted by new sales orders, recovering April’s losses. However, worryingly prospects with respect to future business conditions declined, despite circumstances improving. Concerns around a “renewed virus-induced change in spending behaviour by consumers and firms” hindering demand as the third wave builds, was cited as a probable explanation by the BER. Additionally, rotational load shedding continues to cloud sentiment.
Eskom’s Energy Availability Factor which shows the utility’s available output to the grid for consumption versus its total potential capacity has been below 70% since Q3.20, with Q2.21 showing plant performance at an EAF of closer to 64% (data to early June). Indeed, unreliable electricity supply remains one of the biggest downside risks to economic growth domestically.
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Electricity supply constraints remain a downside risk to growth
3 June 2021
Production and consumption of electricity rose by 25.6% y/y and 25.7% y/y respectively in April, but this is compared to harsh lockdown conditions last year.
April's significant y/y increase in electricity demand and supply comes off a low base. In April of last year, generation and distribution of electricity plunged by -22.8% y/y and -23.3% y/y respectively as economic actvity contracted under the harsh lockdown imposed in late March. Measured on a month-on-month basis, April 2021 production was down -1.8%, while consumption slid by -2.4%.
The Energy Availability Factor (EAF) -- the percentage of SA's total theoretical generation capacity available to the grid -- did improve somewhat in May and June of last year, but has been below the 70% mark since the start of Q3.20 and is averaging just 60.90% year-to-date. Electricity shortages are expected to continue, with Eskom’s CEO reiterating at March’s State of the System briefing that, “there will continue to be an electricity supply shortfall of approximately 4,000MW over the next five years.” The high demand winter period will see further supply disruptions, according to Eskom. The latest bout of load shedding is a case in point, caused by the depletion of emergency generation reserves and breakdowns at several generation units.
Unreliable electricity supply remains one of the biggest downside risks to domestic economic growth. It continues to hinder businesses (especially smaller players), already struggling to stay afloat after the devastating financial effects of the pandemic.
The cash-strapped power utility did reduce its debt burden by R83bn in the 2020/2021 financial year, “due to the repayment of the maturing debt and changes in the exchange rate,” according to Minister Pravin Gordhan. However, Eskom’s R410bn debt continues to be a huge strain on the country’s fiscus and a key concern for credit rating agencies.
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The PMI gauge rose by 1.6 index points in May
1 June 2021
Headline Purchasing Managers’ index (PMI) moving further into positive territory, with a reading of 57.8
The seasonally adjusted (SA) headline Purchasing Managers’ index (PMI) increased by 1.6% points to 57.8 in May 2021. Four of the five sub-indices remained above the neutral 50-point mark, barring the employment index which fell back into negative territory. Q2.21’s performance thus far, which is 3.2 points up on Q4.20’s outcome, “suggests that the sector is on track to record another quarterly expansion”.
Business activity recovered its April losses, rising by 8 points to 58.8 in May 2021, largely on the back of a notable pick up in new sales orders. Specifically, the new sales index climbed to 60.5 from 58.7 recorded in April, likely buoyed by domestic demand as survey respondents reported a decline in export activity. Despite the pick-up in business activity the employment index fell back into negative territory with a reading of 49.6. Joblessness continues to aggravate the financial pressure many households are already experiencing, against a muted economic background. Indeed, the official unemployment rate reached 32.6% in Q1.21.
Manufacturing cost pressures as measured by the purchasing price index declined slightly in May, but remained elevated at 87.1, markedly above last year’s average of 73 points. Specifically, the “recent high readings of the price index correspond to the official producer price index (PPI) data published by Stats SA,” which saw annual PPI for final manufactured goods climb to 6.7% y/y in April, from 5.2% y/y previously.
Prospects with respect to future business conditions declined in May, despite circumstances improving, with the index tracking expected business conditions in six months’ time falling from 67.9 in April to 63.5 in May. Concerns around a “renewed virus-induced change in spending behaviour by consumers and firms” hindering demand as the third wave builds, was cited as a probable explanation by the BER. Additionally, rotational load shedding continues to cloud sentiment.
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Tourism industry still reeling despite domestic recovery
26 May 2021
Sector will struggle until international travel restrictions ease
A buoyant tourism sector is essential to South Africa's economic recovery. While the easing of restrictions on domestic travel has been a lifeline for many in the industry, the dearth of international tourists continues to weigh heavily.
The number of travellers (both South African residents and foreign travellers) passing through SA’s ports of entry/exit in March declined by a substantial -73.5% when compared to the same period last year. However, when measured on a month-on-month basis, numbers rose by 64.8%, likely aided by the move back to level 1 at the beginning of March.
Specifically, the number of foreign tourists fell by a marked -70.5% y/y in March, following February’s -88.7% y/y decline. The vast majority, over 85% or 136 506 of foreign overnight visitors travelled from the SADC regions, with the largest number coming from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, with road transport the dominant means of travel.
Travel from the rest of the world (excl. Africa) continues to be limited, with most commercial passenger flights to and from South Africa still suspended. Indeed, domestic, leisure travel has largely helped keep SA’s tourism industry afloat, although a number of businesses have succumbed to the financial effects of the pandemic.
Income from accommodation eased to -35.9% y/y in March 2021, from -74.1% y/y in February. The drop was underpinned by a -16.5% y/y decline in the number of stay unit nights sold, coupled with -23.2% y/y slide in the average income per stay unit. The Hotels category, which nakes up 60% of the reading, was down -39.7% y/y, with occupancy rates still at a depressed level of 23.5% in March, according to Stats SA.
The monthly lift of 44.0% is positive, although down on December’s result, which was boosted by pent-up demand during the festive season.
As the third wave persists, further, tighter lockdown restrictions remain a risk to the pace of recovery, although we do not foresee the country moving back to the harsh levels experienced in Q2.20. The second phase of the vaccine rollout is gaining momentum but SA is still in the early stages and far behind many other nations.
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Surplus on the trade account widened notably
30 April 2021
Trade surplus increased to R52.8bn in March, supported by a 28.9% m/m increase in exports.
The surplus on South Africa's merchandise trade account increased markedly to R52.77bn in March, from R31.22bn (revised) in February. The outcome was well above Bloomberg consensus expectations of a R23.6bn surplus and was underpinned by a 28.9% m/m increase in exports to R168.29bn, ahead of the 16.3% m/m lift in imports to R115.52bn.
March’s outcome is supported by results from the JP Morgan global manufacturing PMI for March which indicated that international trade flows “(p)icked up pace, with growth of new export business the steepest since January 2018”.
Measured on an annual basis, March’s R52.77bn surplus is a notable improvement from the R21.41bn trade balance surplus logged last year.
A review of the trade highlights released by SARS, suggests that the lift in exports was broad based, with all key categories increasing on a month-on-month basis. Notably Precious metals and stones exports grew by 41.0% m/m. Similarly, all major import segments rose, when compared to the previous month.
Estimates by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), suggest that the volume of world merchandise trade could grow by “8.0% in 2021 after having fallen 5.3% in 2020” and thereafter decelerate to 4.0%. However, they do caution that the “relatively positive short-term outlook for global trade is marred by regional disparities, continued weakness in services trade, and lagging vaccination timetables, particularly in poor countries”.
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Economic recovery and debt outlook correlate directly to lockdown levels
30 March 2021
Data continues to show that businesses and consumers are highly sensitive even to limited restrictions
South African businesses are not resilient to the lockdown restrictions, and neither are consumers. That's clear from the latest economic production data, which is still well below the first quarter of last year.
GDP in the first quarter of 2021 was at R3.1tri in real terms, while fourth quarter 2020 GDP only reached R3.0tr. We're not expected regain pre-Covid production levels until 2024, although reimposition of harsh lockdown restrictions would delay this.
Globally, economic recovery is slow too, and the World Bank continues to reiterate this, highlighting that “although global economic output is recovering from the collapse triggered by COVID-19, it will remain below pre-pandemic trends for a prolonged period.”
Furthermore, the World Bank warns that “the pandemic has exacerbated the risks associated with a decade-long wave of global debt accumulation. It is also likely to steepen the long-expected slowdown in potential growth over the next decade.”
The IMF adds that the “world faces severe problems of debt sustainability in the wake of the coronavirus crisis that have not been properly understood or addressed, … which threaten to tip developing countries into a rising wave of hunger, poverty, social unrest and conflict.”
“The fact that only six countries had defaulted on their foreign debts last year — Argentina, Belize, Ecuador, Lebanon, Suriname and Zambia... created the illusion of stability and a misperception of the seriousness of the situation. Large, middle-income developing countries such as Brazil and South Africa have borrowed heavily from domestic lenders rather than from foreign investors, at interest rates much higher than those available to rich countries, making the dangers less visible than in previous emerging market debt crises”.
South Africa is facing further credit rating downgrades, potentially on 7th May from Moody’s, if not sooner from Fitch (S&P country review is on the 21st May), risking the loss of its BB- rating, and so also risking marked rand weakness and higher borrowing costs.
We have not changed our economic growth outlook substantially, and still expect GDP to rise by around 3.0% y/y this year, with employment rising at the same rate. However, should a third wave of infections after Easter precipitate tighter lockdown restrictions, even this muted pace of recovery would be unlikely.
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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.