Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan faces what could be his most difficult budget speech to date as he seeks to stimulate the economy while containing expenditure.
Gordhan is expected to present the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) to Parliament on October 26.
The minister’s need to carefully balance raising revenue, likely through new taxes, while also attempting to contain expenditure in an environment characterised by low economic growth seems to become more of a challenge with each budget speech.
This has been made even harder this year due to current factors such as the tertiary education funding debate, the threat of a sovereign ratings downgrade and the minister’s pending court appearance on a charge of fraud.
There are five key challenges facing the minister in the MTBPS:
Weak GDP growth and an appropriate turnaround strategy
On October 4, the International Monetary Fund once again cut South Africa’s gross domestic product growth forecast in 2017 to 0.8 percent, from 1 percent previously. Growth during 2016 is expected to be marginal.
Downward GDP growth revisions have become a consistent pattern, as the consumption-led, debt-financed economic growth of recent years has reached its limits.
The persistent downward revisions of GDP growth in recent years is partly due to a weaker economic environment globally but is also driven by various challenges facing South Africa, including political uncertainty and investor concerns.
Weak economic performance has put pressure on the budget deficit and revenue is insufficient to cover expenditure.
Minister Gordhan will need to present viable strategies to tackle this challenge in the MTBPS.
Sustained budget deficits
In his 2016 budget speech, Gordhan said the budget deficit will fall from 3.2 percent of GDP in the 2016/17 year to 2.4 percent in 2018/19.
This would be a positive development because each year the deficit adds to a country’s sovereign debt, resulting in higher debt servicing costs, which could better be utilised to stimulate the economy.
Reducing the budget deficit can be achieved through increasing revenue and reducing expenditure.
Meaningful growth in tax revenue will only be achieved if there is a reasonable pick-up in economic growth, which is only possible if there is further infrastructural activity and job creation.
We need policies that make it attractive for international and local companies to invest in South Africa, and confidence that these policies will not change unexpectedly.
National Treasury has been focusing on expenditure cuts, highlighting the urgency of restoring the fiscal position.
Whether meaningful expenditure savings is achievable remains to be seen, with any overspend a potential risk to the sovereign credit rating, given that the shortfall will have to be funded through additional debt, and a commensurate rise in interest costs.
Containment of government debt
Persistent budget deficits since 2008 have necessitated the need for government to continue funding the shortfall through raising new debt each year.
In February, Gordhan said it was a “central objective” to stabilise debt as a percentage of GDP. Through reduced spending, he projected net national debt to stabilise at 46.2 percent of GDP in 2017/18 and to decline after that.
Higher debt levels can make it more difficult for the government to raise funds, as the debt to GDP ratio continues to increase, creditors (and rating agencies) become concerned about a country’s ability to repay its debt, demanding higher interest rates to compensate for the higher risk.
This has an impact on the budget deficit each year, which if sustained by a country issuing increasing debt over a prolonged period has the potential to lead to a vicious cycle that would see it go deeper into debt to repay existing debt.
The current account deficit
A country’s current account measures the difference between the value of exports of goods and services and the value of imports of goods and services.
A deficit means that the country is importing more goods and services than it is exporting.
South Africa’s current account deficit shrank from 5.3 percent of GDP in the first quarter of 2016, to 3.1 percent of GDP in the second quarter.
While this is a positive short term movement, South Africa’s current account deficit has remained persistent and relatively large over recent years.
In the long run, a protracted current account deficit has negative ramifications, as foreign investors question whether economic growth can provide an adequate return on their investment.
Currency depreciation sees their rand holdings worth less in foreign currency over time.
Government’s ability to meet the various targets as set out in its budgets is a key qualitative measurement of the country’s leadership and is one of the aspects taken into account by rating agencies.
Government needs to demonstrate that economic growth forecasts and deficit reduction targets between 2017 and 2019 are attainable.
This is also very important in terms of assessing whether Minister Gordhan has the support of government because as long as there is political uncertainty, there is unlikely to be meaningful economic growth or job creation.
Rating agencies have specific parameters for their ratings bands and if government deviates outside these parameters, this could trigger rating movements.
Adverse political amendments, such as a sudden and unexpected replacement of the finance minister, have the potential to impact on all the primary quantitative measures assessed by rating agencies, and would be a cause of significant concern for investors.
It is important, now more than ever, for government, labour and business to work together to find and successfully implement solutions to South Africa’s challenges.
Why invest for the future
AN investment plan forms a critical pillar of a financial plan, says Tokiso Nthebe, a local author and financial services adviser.
Nthebe, the founder of TKO Financial Wellness and Advisory, says when people invest, they can use their money to buy assets that will increase in value over the long term.
He says these assets can help them build wealth.
“When you invest, your money starts to work for you by providing returns that will beat inflation,’’ Nthebe says.
Nthebe says there is a huge difference between saving and investing.
He says investing requires that you take some level of risk in exchange for an expected return or growth.
Nthebe says Basotho should consider many factors before they decide to start investing.
“It is important to have a clear strategy that guides your investment decisions and to work with qualified professionals,” he says.
Nthebe says one should consider their growth mind-set, investment goals, and their risk tolerance.
In addition, one should consider what kind of growth or return they expect.
He says one should find out whether the institution they invest in is licensed or regulated and how long one should invest.
Nthebe says one should further consider what risks are associated with the investment option and whether there are any associated costs.
He says it is also important to remember that investments take time.
“There are no short cuts to building wealth. Do not fall prey to get-rich-quick schemes,” he says.
Moreover, Nthebe says the investment landscape comprises commercial banks, asset management companies, and insurance companies.
He says each provides different financial products and services.
Nthebe says the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) also offers investment solutions such as treasury bills and treasury bonds that Basotho can consider.
Depending on your investment goals, he says financial service providers have a wide range of investment solutions to choose from that cater for short, medium, and long-term goals.
“I encourage Basotho to do thorough research and seek professional advice before making financial decisions,” he says.
Vince Shorb, the United States National Financial Educators Council CEO, writes that “many of the financial problems people face today started when they were young and making their first financial decisions”.
Shorb further says taking on too much debt, not investing early, and failing to plan can take one decades to recover from such.
However, it takes financial literacy to make good decisions, he says.
Financial literacy has been perceived as a tool that gives you the opportunity to be confident and empowered to live the quality of life you have worked hard for.
Shorb says one of the wisest decisions one can make to prepare for the future is to invest.
Investment has been defined as the commitment of funds with a view to minimising risk and safeguarding capital while earning a return.
When Covid-19 hit and the government shut down all gatherings in April 2020, there seemed no way out for ICONICS (Pty) Ltd, a budding events management company based in Leribe district.
They had two options: shut down or innovate to keep the business going.
They chose the latter.
Three years down the line, ICONICS (Pty) Ltd has completely transformed itself from an events management and public relations company into a manufacturing company that is now the envy of Lesotho.
“The closing of events translated into the closing of our business,” Rapitso Mosebetsi, one of the co-founders of ICONICS (Pty) Ltd told thepost this week.
Mosebetsi established ICONICS in partnership with Tumo Mahapa.
Faced with collapse, Mosebetsi say they began buying Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as surgical gowns, disposal coveralls and safety apparel for resale.
Eventually they decided to manufacture the PPEs and safety clothing. That was the turning point.
But since the company was already down, Mosebetsi says diversification was a hard nut to crack.
“It became quite a long journey (for us),” he says. “We had to come up with something new for the industry.”
He says they had to overcome stiff competition from giant companies and come up with something unique that would set them apart.
“That was how thermal heating apparel was born,” he says.
“We are the first company to produce thermal heating apparel,” he says.
The company manufactures thermal clothing, which is electric clothing, using power banks of five voltages.
“The voltage is so low to electrocute a person,” he says.
The clothing also has a power button to turn it on and off.
Mosebetsi says the thermal heating apparel is on corporate clothing as well as high-visibility clothing.
Mosebetsi says they started the journey with the support of several organisations, such as the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) and the Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation (BEDCO), to build their capacity.
Mosebetsi says they also got mentorship support from organisations such as the Global Entrepreneurship Network.
The results of years of hard work are now all out for everyone to see.
In 2022, ICONICS won the M100 000 Business Plan Competition hosted by BEDCO.
This grant enabled them to acquire land and buy five more industrial machines.
This did not only enable the company to increase their production to 100 worksuits a week, but it further created permanent jobs for five people as well as three temporary workers.
Last year, the company took part in the Exporter of the Year event hosted by the LNDC in partnership with the Lesotho Post Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Mosebetsi says they won the award for Lesotho’s most innovative and versatile exporter.
He says this did not only put them in the spotlight, but it further encouraged them to do more.
ICONICS was announced as the best exporter of the year at an event hosted by the LNDC earlier this month.
Mosebetsi says this made them proud, as the award is aligned with their vision.
The award further gives the company an opportunity to participate in the regional competition.
He says this opportunity will further give the company a competitive edge in terms of production locally and globally.
“It will be an honour if we can win the regional competition,” he says.
In terms of markets, Mosebetsi says the company has had the opportunity to list their products in the African Trade Market since 2020 with the support of USAID.
This is an e-commerce platform that opens up the market for African countries to list their products.
Mosebetsi says the company did not only get publicity, but the client database also increased.
He says they moved from supplying individuals only to big companies, different organisations, and different government departments such as those involved in mining and health.
Considering the decline of the Lesotho textile industry, Mosebetsi says their secret to success has been their being innovative.
“Our sustainability is matched with innovation,” he says.
Mosebetsi says it also requires patience coupled with lots of investment in terms of time.
“Rome was not built in one day,” he says.
He says working as a team also plays a critical role.
Despite their achievements, Mosebetsi says the market for innovative industries is one of the hardest nuts to crack.
He says the company is in the process of not only making their products known but also educating people about their safety.
Mosebetsi says the other challenge is the decline of the South African Rand as compared to the US Dollar.
He says some of their materials are sourced from China.
Therefore, it is more expensive to buy such materials.
ICONICS is not only seeking to make their brand well known globally, but Mosebetsi says they are also seeking to create more jobs for our youths.
LetsGo and Win!
LETSHEGO Financial Service has launched the LetsGo and Win loan consolidation campaign where customers win weekly and monthly cash prizes of up to M150 000.
The campaign, which was launched yesterday, will end on November 8.
The LetsGo and Win campaign rewards customers for consolidating their loans.
It is aligned with Letshego Lesotho’s version to offer competitive products that cater for the evolving needs of its customers.
The financial services company operates in Lesotho, Botswana, ESwatini, and Zambia.
The Marketing Manager and Business Partner, Tšotetsi Seema, said Letshego Lesotho is committed to delivering increasing value and options to customers.
Seema said this programme is a testament to that commitment.
“The campaign invites customers to consolidate their loans into one low and easy repayment with reduced rates and they stand to win weekly and monthly prizes,” Seema said.
“The weekly cash prizes will be won by lucky customers randomly selected and notified through Letshego Radio shows,” he said.
Additionally, he said two lucky customers will be randomly selected each month and given a chance to spin the wheel of fortune with a chance to receive a maximum of M20 000 each.
“The loans consolidation campaign makes it easier for customers to choose Letshego Lesotho as their preferred financial services partner.”
He said this innovative campaign aims to help individuals streamline their debt payment while benefiting from reduced interest rates.
“Debt consolidation can help customers get a lower monthly payment, pay off their debt sooner, increase their credit score and simplify their life.”
Letshego Lesotho’s Head of Sales, Distribution and Marketing, Motebang Moeketsi, said managing multiple loans can often be overwhelming with varying interest loans due dates and terms.
“The campaign addresses this challenge by combining multiple loans into a single, easy to manage repayment plan,” Moeketsi said.
He added that this simplification not only eases the financial burden on borrowers but also potentially leads to significant savings over time.
Moreover the new consolidation campaign invites customers to take advantage of their best-in-class financial services provided through Letshego Lesotho branch network and digital platforms.
“Letshego Lesotho is committed to increasing financial inclusion through its efforts to serve underbanked communities, promoting financial literacy and delivering positive social impacts for its customers and communities.”
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