A collection of clips, scripted for the finweek: Money Matters show which airs on CNBC Africa (DStv channel 410).
The negative impact of the current account deficit on the rand is at its highest point since at least the Russian financial crisis in 1998. This is the view of Walter de Wet, South Africa head of research at Standard Bank. He was speaking at a press briefing at the bank’s head office in Rosebank on 27 July.
If the country had a current account deficit of zero, rather than the shortfall of R189bn, the rand could have been trading closer to R10 against the US dollar, he said. At the time of writing, the exchange rate was R12.55.
SA has been running a current account deficit – and a fairly wide deficit compared to peers – for over a decade, said De Wet, who did research to see how changes in the current account affect the exchange rate. The exchange rate has a direct impact on key input costs in the economy, such as the petrol price, and therefore inflation.
The deficit is certainly keeping the currency weak.
He said while the exchange rate was much more sensitive to the current account deficit in 1999, the net impact on the currency was smaller back then because SA was running a much smaller deficit. Between 2008 and 2012, the rand was most insensitive to the deficit, De Wet said.
But since the US Federal Reserve’s decision to end its quantitative easing programme early in 2013, the rand has become more sensitive to the current account deficit, De Wet said. A country’s current account deficit is financed by foreign investment, in SA’s case, largely portfolio flows. However, this is challenging when portfolio flows are volatile, because this makes the rand volatile.
The sensitivity of the $/R exchange rate to the current account as % of GDP
The rand has also been hurt by the decline in commodity prices, which had a negative impact on the current account. Metals and mineral commodity exports, mainly platinum group metals, gold, coal and iron ore, account for around 53% of SA’s exports of physical goods, according to Standard Bank. While the lower prices for crude oil and petroleum products in turn benefit the current account balance, the proportion of these imports to total physical goods imports (at around 20%), is much less than the proportion of commodity exports to total physical goods exports.
“A simple rule of thumb would be that for the terms of trade to remain unchanged, the fall in oil prices would have to be two-and-a-half times the fall in the prices of the commodities we export,” De Wet said.
With an interest rate hike expected in the US in September, SA will be less attractive to portfolio flows, which is expected to put further pressure on the currency. “Strategically, we expect the rand to remain under pressure in the next 12 months. Tactically we expect rallies, but these are likely to fade,” he added.
The deficit has come down to 4.6% of GDP in the second quarter, from 4.8% in the first quarter, but it is likely to increase to 5.8% in the third quarter and 5.5% in the fourth due to seasonal flows, De Wet said. Inflation was likely to average 4.7% this year and 5.7% in 2016, while the economy is likely to grow by 2% this year and 1.7% next year, it said.
Current account balance as a % of GDP (forecast)
The South African Reserve Bank, which hiked the prime lending rate 25 basis points to 9.5% on 23 July, is only expected to increase rates again by the middle of next year, according to Standard Bank Research.
This article was featured in Finweek magazine.
The world is on the brink of an historical era shift similar to the Renaissance, Reformation and Industrial Revolution, says futurist Graeme Codrington. He describes this change as a “deep structural shift” where new technology, economic and political realities and societal structures emerge.
Codrington, founding director of strategic insights firm TomorrowToday, suggests four ways in which this change impacts the world of work by 2025:
Half of the jobs that exist today (including doctors, actuaries and accountants) will be redundant as automation takes over. In addition to robots, algorithms which integrate hardware and software systems, will make decisions. “It happened to the farmers 100 years ago; it happened to the factories 50 years ago. Now the machines are coming for your job,” says Codrington.
About 25% of the people working in offices will be freelancers. “We will have the ‘on-demand economy’,” says Codrington. Employers will only get the skills they need, when they need them. Currently, websites like Elance, TaskRabbit and Freelancer allow freelancers to advertise their skills.
“It’s kind of like an e-Bay for skills,” he says. The employer specifies the job required online, people present bids for the job and the employer gets to pick the cheapest person. Jobs are now being done at a “digital distance”.
3. Smart devices
These are the most powerful handheld devices, a supercomputer, less than an arm’s length away from you at all times. Codrington says that these are well priced for everyone, not just the rich. The divide between the rich and the poor will no longer exist as everyone can enter the digital age without restriction. “If we can give people free Wi-Fi, free cloud storage and a R500 smartphone, everybody gets to play.”
4. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
The world’s best universities will be putting their best courses, online for free. Platforms like Coursera are already offering a number of free courses from universities including Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt and Peking University.
Educating children for the future
Michelle Lissoos, managing director at Think Ahead solutions, says that children currently entering the school system will be walking into the world of work described by Codrington – their jobs don’t exist yet. “Children won’t be getting jobs from the Fortune 500 companies but rather in small micro-enterprises,” says Nikki Bush, a parenting expert.
Schools have to prepare students for this “non-existent” workplace. However, despite there being change in industries such as banking, health and transport, classrooms haven’t changed, says Lissoos. Schools have to redefine 21st century literacy which involves leadership, digital literacy, emotional intelligence, entrepreneurship, global citizenship, team-working and problem solving with cognitive skills. Students should learn how to curate and critically evaluate information. Coding is being introduced into curriculums because it teaches problem solving, critical analysis, collaboration and team work, says Lissoos.
Many schools make the mistake of introducing technology that does not make real change. ”There is a lot of substitution but no redefinition,” says Lissoos. For example, she says, black boards are simply replaced with white boards; it does not change how students are taught. Technology should be accompanied by project-based and challenge- based learning. Additionally, technology integration should be part of teacher training. Lissoos explains that there are big rollouts of technology. Tablets are handed out and connectivity is improved at schools but teachers are not trained to work with it, she adds.
Things have changed significantly, says Bush, and both children and businesses should be prepared for an “uncertain reality”. She explains that corporates should work together with schools in terms of sharing resources and informing schools of their needs and skills shortages.
This article was featured in Finweek magazine.
South Africa is in a challenging position, with low growth hovering around 2%-2.5% when it should be 5% and above. Exports are very important. If the economy is going to grow, there needs to be an increase in local trade, export trade and support for infrastructure, says Greg Nosworthy, head of Euler Hermes South Africa.
Treasury’s forecasts have downgraded significantly, from 4.5% in 2010 to the current level of 2%-2.5%, says Nazmeera Moola, economist and strategist at Investec Asset Management.
The country’s biggest problem is the lack of export earnings, explains Moola. Import expenditure exceeds export earnings. The bulk of GDP is generated by the services sector, not from exports, which has resulted in the current account deficit, she says. More exports are needed to reduce the deficit, says Ludovic Subran, chief economist at Euler Hermes.
There has been a downward trend in export prices since mid-2013, says Moola. Prices have come down by 40% in total. The collapse in oil prices offered some benefit, however this highlights that there is a problem with the items being exported.
The country has been exporting commodities for the past 50 years. In 1964, SA mainly exported farming goods. By 1994 this changed to commodities like gold, platinum and iron ore. Not enough manufactured goods are exported and this is due to the energy crisis. There is limited electricity supply for manufacturing plants, explains Moola. Electricity intensity in the manufacturing sector is down 30%.
Comparing SA to other African countries, Nigeria’s economy has evolved from a soft commodity exports like crude and petroleum in 1962, to purely oil in 2012. Kenya has a more diversified economy. Besides commodities, it exports manufactured goods like clothing and cleaning materials, says Moola.
Other diversified economies like Ethiopia, Zambia and Mozambique are faring well. Given the commodity bust, countries built on commodities like Angola and Nigeria are having a hard time, with less investment and infrastructure spend, says Subran.
SA is a mixed case. It is a diversified economy, but commodities are a big market mover for GDP. There is potential for services and manufacturing sectors to contribute more to GDP, says Subran.
It’s quite a massive investment but they’re cutting the middle man and they’re making huge labour opportunity for thousands of individuals.
There should be more investment in the manufacturing sector. “You have commodities, you have the people who work, you need to industrialise the country,” says Subran. There needs to be a “game changer”. SA has the skills and commodities to develop entire industries downstream, this will equip the middle class through the “rebirth” of the manufacturing sector, he explains. This means developing the extraction and refining processes. “Why export to China to reimport to South Africa?”
This year Indonesia banned the export of raw nickel to China. The refining will take place in Indonesia and then materials will be exported. “It’s quite a massive investment but they’re cutting the middle man and they’re making huge labour opportunity for thousands of individuals,” says Subran. He admits this is not easy and private investment is necessary.
Countries move too fast from a commodity-based economy to a service-based economy. This only works in small countries where there are fewer people to feed and employ. Industrial revolutions are major job providers and they structure the private sector, says Subran.
Ways to Move SA Forward
Ralph Mupita, CEO of Old Mutual Emerging Markets highlights three options to take to move the SA forward.
1. Convert the trust deficit in the country to a trust surplus.
“South Africa is a very unequal society,” says Mupita. The trust deficit emanates from inequality. Government, businesses and the labour sector should engage to solve the problem by promoting minimum wage and improving productivity levels. SA is the fifth-most unequal society in the world, according to the Taylor Commission Report. Moola says that the high inequality does not mean that there has been no progress in alleviating poverty. There have been improvements in education, health and living standards.
2. Implementation of the NDP
“It is not a perfect plan, but no plan ever is,” says Mupita. It is still capable of creating economic growth, dealing with challenges of unemployment and inequality to achieve the 2030 goals. Aspects of the NDP that should be prioritised include resolving the energy crisis, which calls for investment by the private sector. The model in China should be adopted where power generation is handled by the private sector and distribution is handled by the public sector.
Says Subran: “The electricity problems need to be solved stat, it could be a massive disincentive for future investors.” The infrastructure deficit should also be addressed. The private sector should invest long-term capital projects that generate returns to overcome growth challenges.
Mupita says: “Private sector investment will alleviate government’s burden to try and fund everything.”
Lastly, the education system should of good quality and be affordable for accessibility. More people should graduate from the school system with the right skills relevant for the future, which will be digital- and technology-based, says Mupita.
Adds Moola: “If we don’t solve education, we will not solve the other problems that we want to.”
3. Play a meaningful role in the economic integration in the rest of the continent
Intra-Africa trade is lower than it should be and SA needs to play an active role in the effective integration in the SADC region. East Africa’s integration works best in terms of regional business integration. However there is not enough economic interdependency in SADC, says Mupita.
SA is isolated form other markets, which is why it needs to engage with neighbouring countries, and ultimately expand trade across the continent, says Moola.
Subran adds that a lot can happen out of SA, it can be used a springboard to develop the rest of the continent, in turn fostering development in the country too.
This article was featured on Finweek.com
Vodacom has faced one of its “toughest” years. Cuts in mobile termination rates (MTRs) by 50%, intensifying competition, increasing pressures on consumer spending, regulatory challenges, cost pressures and a difficult macro environment made for a strenuous first half of the year. By the fourth quarter, Vodacom appeared to be gaining momentum. Against this backdrop, CEO Shameel Aziz Joosub says he’s pleased with the group’s performance.
“We saw significant price crashes in all our markets and we had to innovate and adjust our approach to maintain market leadership,” says Joosub. The rand volatility and its devaluation against key currencies impacted expenses in South Africa and international operations, according to Chief Financial Officer Ivan Dittrich. Recent tariff increases were a last resort as prices weren’t increased in over 10 years, says Joosub.
Strong investment and cost focus, supported by strong data growth is helping Vodacom remain competitive despite market challenges.
MTR cuts had the most significant impact, affecting group service revenue by R2bn. Joosub adds that the only positive outcome is that the worst of this adjustment is over. The group can now focus on differentiating and growing network reach and capacity through investment and enabling access to low-cost products like smartphones and tablets.
Data services made progress. Active data customers increased to 26.5m and smart data devices in the network grew to 11.6m. Data revenue now contributes more than a quarter of group service revenue.
New services like M-pesa, financial services, content and Machine to Machine (M2M) are growth pillars for the group. There are 1.8m M2M customers. In South Africa there are 1m registered M-pesa customers, of those 76000 are active users. Usage was incentivised through airtime. “We have to actively increase our distribution and create an ecosystem to ensure customers can transact with the M-pesa platform,” says Joosub.
M-pesa in progress
Internationally M-pesa is gaining traction, users increased by a third to 8m with revenue growth at 27.5%. About R8bn is moved monthly through M-pesa. Tanzania’s M-pawa, a savings and loans product launched in September in partnership with the Commercial Bank of Africa has 1.8m active users. International money transfer services are key in getting sophisticated financial service products to market and achieving scale in the number of M-pesa users, says Joosub.
In South Africa, there have been challenges with M-pesa systems and a few issues are being resolved which is why a lot of work has been focussed below the line, says Joosub. “We are not driving it too hard. We need to make sure everything is 100% where we want it to be.” Until the product is working effectively, a campaign to drive usage will be launched.
International operations delivered a “solid performance”, according to Joosub, reducing dependency on South African operations. However growth was dampened by intense pricing competition in Tanzania and the lack of adherence to pricing regulations by competitors in the DRC. Active customers increased to 29.5m and active data customers grew to 9.9m. Data revenue growth is at 32.9%.
“Almost half of our active customers are coming from operations outside South Africa,” says Joosub. International market revenue accounts for 30% of network investment. Data uptake is further driven by low-cost devices being introduced in markets. The 50% growth in 3G sites resulted in a 185% growth in data traffic.
Data is going to be big in the next couple of years.
The expansion strategy involves investing properly in existing markets to have pure market and network leadership and then pursuing growth opportunities. “We make sure in every market we have clear network leadership. That for us is paramount in our DNA,” says Joosub.
There are plans to reduce reliance on traditional voice services and to diversify revenue streams. Data is targeted to contribute 40% to group service revenue.
“Data is going to be big in the next couple of years,” says Joosub. “In Europe they’re saying that the average person will have 8 connected devices by 2020.” This means in South Africa we will have more than 200m connections. More investment in data is on the cards as people are consuming more data due to increasing connection speeds. The next step is to control fibre and extending it to whole businesses.
Neotel on ice
It’s been a year since the deal with Neotel was signed. The transaction has been with authorities for approval. Joosub says it is disappointing that the approval has been delayed for so long. “Every day of delay is a day lost in connecting South Africa,” he says. The restriction to build fibre has a systematic impact on South Africa, with a number of houses and offices still not connected, he says.
Without Neotel in proper hands, there is a risk that the goals won’t be achieved.
There are no plans to back out of the deal and the group does not expect any obligations on the deal as there are a “number of positives” that can flow from it. “It speaks strongly to government’s goals in terms of what they want to achieve for 2020 … Without Neotel in proper hands, there is a risk that the goals won’t be achieved.”
By building their own fibre, it will also help reduce cost pressures. The cost of fibre build versus the cost of taking it from Telkom is one tenth. “If we build our own, 80% of sites will have transmission of fibre,” says Joosub.
The Neotel deal is a crucial growth opportunity for Vodacom, making it Telkom’s main competitor. Vodacom will be able to extend its services, increasing the capabilities of entities by growing its data footprint. As for resources lost in the deal, Joosub says the lawyers’ fees and time investments of people internally are immaterial in the greater scheme of things.
Echoing the words of President Jacob Zuma, GIBS professor Dr Adrian Saville says South Africa’s economy has a good story to tell.
Considering South Africa’s economic growth since 1980, Saville explains the country grew in an “uncoordinated” boom-bust pattern during the apartheid period. The growth rate was at 1.5%, which was half that of the world’s at 3%. The “political miracle” in the early 90s shows a more functionally, coordinated economic growth correlated with the world’s. He says this economic miracle hasn’t dawned on most South African businesses in our “half-empty rather than half-full society”.
Post ’94 and towards 2014, South Africa managed to achieve the world’s economic growth rate, double that of the previous 20 years and well-ahead of population growth at 3.2%.
Going forward, in what Saville describes as a period of “drifting to driving” with economic growth forecasted at 3.3%. South Africa has harvested the benefits of economic integration. However these benefits are once-off gains. “Something different needs to be added into the recipe,” he says.
“South Africa has gone backwards in the last couple of years,” says Saville. The country struggles to convert great ideas into functional deliveries for the improvement of socio-economic wellbeing, he says.
There’s 5.5 and social inclusion right in front of us, we just have to reach for it.
Saville suggests implementing structural transformation to change social and economic architecture. This will see economic openness, policy certainty, advances in social welfare, life expectancy, education, health delivery and a culture of savings that become functional investments. Current architectural problems take away 1.5% of economic growth, seeing South Africa lag behind the world’s economic growth of 3.5% at 2.5%.
To meet the National Development Plan target of 5.4% he suggests three changes:
- The delivery of Gross Domestic Fixed Investment (GDFI) for new firms, employment and productivity. Nurturing confidence in the public sector is key. Public sector delivery combined with private sector investment can stimulate 5.5% sustained contribution to economic growth, raising it from 2.5% to 4%. Delivering more jobs and resolving unemployment is possible by generating small businesses.
- Openness and connectedness through Trade, Capital, Information flows and People (TCIP). The most important drivers of economic integration are moving people and information across borders ahead of goods and services and capital. South Africa should be more connected with its neighbours, as economic growth opportunities are up to 1.5%. Integration is an accelerating contributor to social and economic improvement.
- Social and economic inclusion matters more than achieving the 5.4%. South Africa continues to display high levels of unemployment. South Africa’s Gini coefficient is the highest in the world at 65.0. “It’s not the 5.5% economic growth we should be ringing our hands about, it’s this Gini coefficient,” says Saville. “There’s 5.5 and social inclusion right in front of us, we just have to reach for it.”
This article was featured in Finweek magazine.