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Could Tito Mboweni Be The Turning Point?

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Tito Mboweni inherits Africa’s recession-hit country as president Cyril Ramaphosa chases growth.

If the performance of South Africa’s currency in the week since Tito Mboweni was picked as finance minister is any good, Africa’s only economy in official recession might be on to a good thing.

The rand, Africa’s most freely-traded currency, gained more than 5% against the dollar in the week since the former central bank governor replaced Nhlanhla Nene who quit after lying about his dealings with a business family, the Guptas, accused of bribing government officials including former President Jacob Zuma.

The former labor minister brings a no-nonsense approach analysts say will be needed to take Africa’s second-largest economy out of a largely self-inflicted second recession in less than a decade amid graft allegations. He will need to rein in government spending, six months before elections that may drop the ruling African National Congress’ (ANC) support below half for the first time since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

“Fiercely independent and often regarded as a bit of a maverick, Mr Mboweni is nevertheless likely to emerge as one of Mr Ramaphosa’s more inspired decisions,’’ says Gary van Staden, analyst at Cape Town-based NKC Research.

“He is certainly among the more highly-regarded choices the president could have made and we expect him to add momentum to the decisions of the job summit and economic stimulus package.’’

Mboweni served four years as labor minister in former President Nelson Mandela’s government where he developed the first post-apartheid labor law. At the South African Reserve Bank, where he was the country’s first black governor, Mboweni spent a decade, and built a reputation as a conservative banker and defender of the country’s newly-adopted inflation-targeting regime.

His major achievement was building the country’s foreign exchange reserves from less than $10 billion to $40 billion when he left in 2009 after two terms deemed by most as successful.

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“The economy is now in a safe pair of hands. It is someone senior both in the ANC and in the government as he served as a minister of labor previously. What is also important is we have ratings agencies watching us and this will bode well for them,’’ says independent economist Mike Schussler.

Mboweni takes charge of an economy that was in recession in the first six months of the year, hobbled by nine years of poor management under Zuma which left business confidence shattered. With the economy barely growing during the period, the country lost its investment grade rating from Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and Fitch Ratings.

Only Moody’s maintained its rating above junk and the company deferred a decision after Mboweni’s appointment, fanning hopes it will give him time to mend the country’s finances and present a credible growth plan.

But economists say it might be too late for a country that needs to cut spending while chasing economic growth.

“I am afraid we have overplayed our hand on the numbers,’’ says Dawie Roodt, an economist at Efficient Group in Johannesburg.

“The fiscal numbers are unsustainable and the debt numbers in particular are terrible. From a numbers point of view, I am afraid this is a downgrade.’’

The new minister has a full problem tray as he comes in: unemployment is sitting at 27.2% as companies grapple with soaring costs inflated by a weak rand, falling government revenues in a country where 17 million people depend on government grants, and weak business confidence.

But his appointment may provide the turning point the country desperately requires, according to Van Staden.

“The former Reserve Bank governor can be a difficult personality, but his skillset and deep understanding of financial markets are likely to see him embrace a market-orientated policy framework with a no-nonsense attitude and dedication to economic growth and social development. We expect the appointment to have a positive impact on the credibility of the Ramaphosa administration.’’

It is credibility Ramaphosa has been building and one he will need quickly, according to Ravi Bhatia, a director at S&P which rates the country’s debt junk with a stable outlook. Its next rating decision is scheduled to be announced on November 23.

“He will have to get up to speed quite quickly,’’ Bhatia said pointing to the country’s Medium Term Budget Policy statement released in October. “He will have to push through measures that will deliver growth. We want to see growth being delivered and the fiscal line being controlled.’’

– Godfrey Mutizwa

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Coca Cola South Africa Improves SME Role In Value Chain

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Coca Cola Beverages South Africa (CCBSA) launches an R20 million fund for small supplier development and procurement, annually, for the next five years.

This was announced by the Financial Director, Walter Leonhardt at Gallagher Convention Centre at the third annual Supplier Development Conference.

CCBS is the South African-based subsidiary of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA).

Leonhardt said the purpose of this fund is to assist young upcoming black entrepreneurs in the Coca-Cola value chain.

“We are, today, launching the CCBSA supplier fund of access to funding. To address the issue of access to funding which most SMEs experience,” said Leonhardt.

This will enable the entrepreneurs’ procurement process to be easier.

“It is to help them buy equipment, fund working capital and to help them overcome something we have identified as a challenge for upcoming businesses, which is access to capital on quit lenient terms,” said Leonhardt.

Budding entrepreneurs can visit their website to find out how they can access the funds.

There were over 120 suppliers of CCBSA in attendance.

Managing director of CCBSA Velaphi Ratshefola said they spent R2.35 billion last year, supporting 567 black-owned suppliers, of whom, 265 were black female owned suppliers.  

“So for me, it is clear that this is working. We have helped create a very inclusive economy. We need to play our part and we need to ensure that only through an inclusive growing economy we can create a stable environment where businesses can flourish.

“If we do not have a stable environment, a stable economy, we will have a lot of disturbances which are never good for business,” said Ratshefola.                      

“So for all of us, we should not do it just for social reasons, we must do it for the success of businesses and imperative,” said Ratshefola. 

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Zimbabwe Central Bank Borrows $985 Million From African Banks

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Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank has borrowed $985 million from African banks to purchase fuel and other critical imports with current reserves covering imports for just four weeks, underscoring the severity of dollar shortages, governor John Mangudya said.

The southern African nation last month ditched a discredited 1:1 dollar peg for its surrogate bond notes and electronic dollars, merging them into a lower-value transitional currency called the RTGS dollar.

Mangudya said the central bank borrowed $641 million from the African Export and Import Bank, $152 million from Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank, and $25 million from Mozambique’s central bank, among others.

The loans, which would be repaid from future gold earnings, have a tenure of between three and five years and attract an interest of up to 6 percent above the Libor rate, Mangudya said.

Gold is Zimbabwe’s single biggest mineral export earner, accounting for a third of its $4.2 billion earnings last year after a record output, central bank data shows.

“These loans are well structured facilities contracted last year. They will be paid from future (gold) export receivables,” Mangudya told a parliamentary committee.

The central bank takes 45 percent of dollar sales from gold producers and half from other miners to fund imports like fuel and power and repay foreign loans.

But the miners only have 30 days to keep their dollar balances in local foreign currency accounts, after which they must sell them. The companies have asked the central bank to extend the period they may keep their dollars to 90 days, according to mining executives.

OVERDRAFT LIMIT

Unable to get funding from foreign lenders like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank due to arrears of more than $2.4 billion, Zimbabwe has looked to financiers from the continent and local banks to shore up its budget.

The central bank chief said Zimbabwe had just $500 million in reserves, enough to purchase four weeks’ worth of imports.

Mangudya said government borrowing from the central bank reached $2.99 billion in December, about three times its permissible overdraft limit.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has promised to curb borrowing in 2019 under reforms to revive the southern African economy, after the budget deficit soared last year following a spike in spending ahead of elections.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said last week that the local RTGS dollar, Zimbabwe’s new de facto currency, will be backed up with fiscal discipline and the government would allow it to fluctuate but would manage excessive volatility.

On the interbank forex market on Monday, one U.S. dollar fetched 2.5 RTGS dollars, the same rate as on Feb. 22 when the central bank sold some dollars to banks. That compares to a rate of 3.5 RTGS dollars per U.S. dollar on the black market. -Reuters

-MacDonald Dzirutwe

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Volvo To Limit Car Speeds In Bid For Zero Deaths

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Volvo Cars said on Monday it will introduce a 180 km per hour (112 mph) speed limiter on all new vehicles as the Swedish automaker seeks to burnish its safety credentials and meet a pledge to eliminate passenger fatalities by 2020.

While Volvo, whose XC90 flagship SUV currently has a top speed of 212 km/h, has made progress on its so-called “Vision 2020” target of zero deaths or serious injuries, Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said it is unlikely to meet the goal without additional measures to address driver behavior.

“We’ve realized that to close the gap we have to focus more on the human factors,” Samuelsson said. Volvo did not elaborate on the data but said its passenger fatalities were already well below the industry average before the goal was announced in 2007.

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In addition to the speed cap, Volvo plans to deploy technology using cameras that monitor the driver’s state and attentiveness to prevent people driving while distracted or intoxicated, two other big factors in accidents, Samuelsson said.

The company is also looking at lower geo-fenced speed limits to slow cars around sensitive pedestrian areas such as schools, while seeking to “start a conversation” among automakers and regulators about how technology can be used to improve safety.

Volvo, which is owned by China’s Geely, announced the new speed limitation policy on the eve of the Geneva auto show, where its new Polestar performance electric-car brand is showcasing its second model, the Polestar 2.

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While Volvo buyers often choose the brand for its safety, Samuelsson conceded that the speed cap could be a turn-off for a few in markets such as Germany, where drivers routinely travel at 200 km/h or more on unrestricted autobahns.

“We cannot please everybody, but we think we will attract new customers,” the CEO said, recalling that the roll-out of three-point seat belts pioneered by Volvo in 1959 had initially been criticized by some as intrusive.

“I think Volvo customers in Germany will appreciate that we’re doing something about safety,” he said. -Reuters

– Laurence Frost; additional reporting by Esha Vaish

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