Friday, 4 May 2012

More Es for Economic Diversification

For decades the government of Botswana together with the private sector has been talking economic diversification. Numerous policies and strategies have been established towards this goal. The 2009 economic crises illuminated the fiscal issues, declining revenues which are a medium term phenomenon. Government revenues and Botswana’s GDP has been dominated by mining particularly diamonds, however,  mineral revenues contribution to GDP has over the years declined from highs of 40% to the current 27%.

In the pursuit of economic diversification, government has introduced some programs at various times such as Financial assistance policy (FAP), ALDEP, youth grants, manufacturing incentives, etc. Still with this massive investment towards this goal we haven’t been able to witness progress and the real benefits of economic diversification. Sound economic diversification shouldn’t only have high level macroeconomic results but should be felt on the ground by the layman through growth in economic opportunities particularly growth in employment opportunities, growing middle class and lowering disparities between the poor and the rich.

Some of the issues that keep coming up when discussing economic diversification are growth in the local private sector and Batswana participation.  Citizen Economic Empowerment (CEE) is widely accepted as an essential component of economic development and diversification and lately the CEE policy has been said to be tightly intertwined to the Economic Diversification Drive (EDD). We are yet again pushing for introduction of new policies and strategies without necessarily having properly evaluated the previously failed, the unimplemented and the ‘still in progress’ policies. What is it that CEE is going to introduce that FDP or ALDEP or LIMID didn’t do? Most of the programs before have always been citizen empowerment focused, for companies to benefit from CEDA loans for example need a Motswana majority shareholder. Question of-course is, since we have always supported Batswana owned enterprises and we haven’t seen any fantastic results aren’t we wasting our efforts on the wrong course? Should we perhaps follow EDD which talks to local enterprises which basically means for as long as an enterprise is based in Botswana it’s eligible for incentives such as access to finance? Is moving forward with CEE further fuelling the sense of entitlement that most of us feel is the down fall of Batswana? During one of my interviews on DumaFm, I was asked what I think of EDD and as honestly as possible, risk isn’t on how it looks on paper but largely on how it’s going to be implemented. I’m quite wary on promoting sub-standard quality goods, uncompetitive pricey goods through the government market. In the short term EDD is supposed to serve as infant industry protection which will in the long term produce internationally competitive enterprises.

We need to start looking at “empowerment through excellence”; pursued in a way that is consistent with participation in a global economy that requires openness to trade, capital flows and migration. We live in a global village and we need to start acting and working the part. How relevant are our policies and strategies in this competitive world, for sound economic growth and diversification we need to start thinking outside the box and looking outside the border; have an export led economy and attractive enough for FDI.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Return of the Great

2011 was a very confusing year; excellent diamond sales in the first half of the year followed by a big slump in the second half, USA battled with debt ceiling, the Euro zone countries faced larger problems of defaulting, the jasmine revolution in North Africa and the Middle East, a tsunami in Japan, all these resulting in volatility in commodity prices, disruptions to supply chains and general uncertainty has impacted businesses across the globe, slowing the recovery in both mature and emerging markets.  Over the year, fears of a double dip recession got stronger and seemed on the brink of the 1930s calamity, the question now is, will we see the return of the great depression in 2012?

Earlier this year at the FNBB budget dinner, colleagues brushed off fears of a double dip recession. There have been signs that the ‘apocalypse’ may not be eminent after all, In Europe things are looking promising; the first sovereign default in a developed economy has passed off without a problem though not easy; Greece is restructuring its debt. In America firms are hiring more and consumers are spending more. Industrial output jumped in January after surging in December by the most in five years, auto sales are booming. Consumer confidence has reached its highest point in a year and even the housing market is showing signs of turning around.

In Botswana we remain very wary, diamond prices are uncertain; mostly leaning towards a decline. Copper prices and other metals prices are expected to rise and then remain steady in 2012. Government budget has reached surplus after 3 years of deficit and there hasn’t been much reduction to government spending to affect the domestic market drastically. There are estimations for lower inflation in the second half of the year.
But is this a call for us to done our blue, black, white and bring on a Zebras win cheer type celebration? Definitely not, the worst might be averted but we still expect slow economic growth in 2012. Oil prices are not expected to fall anytime soon, rather we expect a rise in local fuel prices, though they are not at the historic high prices of 2008, they remain high enough to worry.

As the IMF and World Bank have stated, European countries need to stop focusing so intently on austerity and instead do more to generate growth. Collective action can help set the global economy on a more robust growth trajectory by fostering global demand rebalancing; however, the greatest challenge for the global economy in this slow growth environment is to raise productivity without losing job opportunities for the millions who are looking for reasonably paid jobs to support their living standards. 

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Jubilant crowds in Tripoli were met by speculation over oil prices. When the rebels swept into the heart of Libyan city, oil prices began to tumble over  speculation and expectation that once the rebels have taken over, oil supply from Libya will increase substantially from its low since the revolution.

On Monday as battle raged in Tripoli, Brent crude dropped $3.47 to $105.15 a barrel, a fall of 3 percent, and is now trading at $107.35, while US crude fell by a dollar before recovering by the same amount to $87.37 a barrel. Lybia could be pumping as much as 1m barrels a day within months, close to the pre-war figure of 1.6m, nearly 2 percent of global supply. The prospects of oil prices going down in the short term is not on assumption that Libyan production will go back to pre-revolution immediately, but rather that the political situation would stabilise, reducing risk associated with production and exporting oil.

Post revolution it appears that it will take a while for Libya to be back on its feet- both politically and economically. However,  one can only hope that the oil wells have not been sabotaged or tempered with. While we could all, oil users, get excited over the prospects of oil prices going down due to the potential end of the revolution, we must remember that there are a lot of factors that influence oil prices; Financial markets, demand by major markets (OECD) and global inventories just to mention a few. Just to illustrate, Global oil inventories balance supply and demand; If market makers notice an inventory build, spot oil prices will likely drop in response to balance demand with supply. Conversely, if oil futures rise in relation to the current spot price for oil, the impetus to store oil will increase.

During the month of August, international oil prices dropped; WTI oil declined by 10.88 percent; Brent oil fell by only 4.86 percent. So does this mean the rise in fuel prices in Botswana was unexpected, a hoax, a rip-off, like I have heard many people say? Not at all, in actual fact, we should have seen a higher increase earlier this year when we only got a 10 thebe increase/litter. The thing is our prices are decided about a month before they are announced and at the time when a decision was made, oil prices were going up and we needed to catch up. I know I will most probably get ugly stares for having made that statement but we have some of the lowest fuel prices in the region, look at our neighbours; South Africa is trading at around R10 per litre and we are still P7.70/litter (around$1.15). In Botswana retail fuel prices are regulated by the government, The National Petroleum Fund cushions and stabilises national prices when international prices are erratic. This means that sometimes, when international oil prices are too high, the government through the NPF will pay a share of the fuel prices for the consumers and sometimes when oil prices go down, the excess between real oil prices and what we pay is a contribution to the NPF.  If oil prices continue to go down, we will as Batswana enjoy those benefits as well.

BUCANEER ECONOMY- The Story of Somalia

Most of us know Somalia because of the pictures of starving women and kids the most memorable to me being that of a vulture overlooking a child nearing death. Also Somalia is known for the pirates who boost its coast economy. Other than that, most of us are clueless when it comes to Somalia and I must admit that it was not easy writing this peace. I hope this peace will shed some light on the Somali economy and maybe its people.
Historically, the Somalis raise cattle, sheep, and goats, but the camel plays the central role as an indicator of wealth and success. Camels provide meat, milk, and transportation for Somali pastoralists, and serve as their principal medium of exchange. Camels are provided as compensation for homicides and are a standard component of the dowry package.

At independence the Somali economy was at a near subsistence level, and the new state lacked the administrative capacity to collect taxes from subsistence herders and farmers. The state could rely on the customs taxes from international trade, which were easier to collect, but tariffs failed to meet the needs of a government with ambitious development goals. Somalia therefore relied on international subsidies particularly Italy and Britain, which funded about 31 percent of the new nation's current budget in the first three years of independence.
The country could not overcome its dependence on foreign assistance, even to meet its current budget. Moreover, imports of foreign grains increased rapidly, indicating that the agricultural sector was not meeting the needs of the growing urban population. There was however a boom in livestock export from Hargeysa, cows, goats, and camels were becoming concentrated in northern Somalia, much to the detriment of rangelands, which as we know now are completely eroded.
In the 1970s, Siad Barre, the then president, introduced Scientific Socialism which quickly brought a substantial proportion of the modern economy under state control. The government nationalized banks, insurance companies, petroleum distribution firms, and the sugar-refining plant and created national agencies for construction materials and foodstuffs. Two economic trends from this period were noteworthy: increasing debt and the collapse of the small industrial sector.
The Somali economy was hurt as much by these factors and by the economic cost of creating a large modern army as it was by the concurrent drought. During the 1970s, foreign debt increased faster than export earnings. Many loans, especially from the Soviet Union, were, in effect, written off. thanks to the accumulated debt burden, by the 1980s the economy could not attract foreign capital, and virtually all international funds made available to Somalia in rescheduling agreements came with the provision that international civil servants would monitor all expenditures. As a result of its international debt, therefore, Somalia lost control over its macroeconomic structure.  Like most countries devastated by debt in the late 1970s, Somalia could rely only on the nostrums of the IMF and its program of structural adjustment. The government had to scale down on its projects and cut down on expenditure. They also suffered much devaluation of the shilling and reductions in government personnel.

As a result of the civil war in many areas, the economy deteriorated rapidly. Previously, livestock exports from northern Somalia represented nearly 80 percent of foreign currency earned, but these exports came to a virtual halt when the Saudi Arabian government banned Somali beef. Shortages of most commodities, including food, fuel, medicines, and water, occurred virtually countrywide.

Since the collapse of Siad Barre’s regime in 1991, Somalia has been functioning without a state, gradually descending to anarchy and chaos. This led a large amount of non-state actors seeking power to gain control over Somalia, creating a war economy where war-lords collected taxes to fund the war. However, there has been a gradual shift from the war economy of the 1990’s to a quasi-legitimate trade (import/export, telecommunication, transports) of the beginning of the 2000’s. Service sectors in Somalia are now more developed than in other countries, though Somalia remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. According to the World Bank, the development of such private sector should play a major role in the conflict de-escalation, and should encourage clans to cooperate with each other.  The agriculture sector is struggling and as we know, Somalia is hit by what the UN has termed the worst ‘humanitarian crises’.

The Somalia story goes deep beyond the famine, I’d like to encourage all to take some time and read some more on Somalia . Remember to lend a helping hand to those in need

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Colossus is Crumbling

As the biggest economy in the world is being rocked by winds of shock and debt chaos, we all wonder where our fate lies. Questions have been springing from all directions on what our prospects are and if the future looks bleak. While there is a lot of controversy in American politics, I would like to, as a person, believe that we as a race are able to set aside our ideologies and face reality, deal with issues and handle them the way they deserve. There is very little cooperation between the American legislators and that kind of dichotomy is hurting the US Dollar; this is no time for Russian roulette; the US is gearing up to shoot itself in the foot and the whole world in the face. Last week I wrote briefly on the repercussions of US default and this week I’d like to reiterate and add some more points on this topic.
If the US defaults on its debt, the global banking and financial market liquidity could dry up. Lending between institutions and people or businesses could possibly cease altogether or become cost prohibitive. Further, the US government will effectively start to run out of money to pay civil servants, government contractors, pensioners or holders of government debt. The shock would quickly spread throughout the world and would very likely lead to a serious global recession, possibly worse than the one seen a few years ago. The risk appetite of investors has been dented and rating agencies have warned of potential downgrade over the past weeks. Some of the fear arising now on the US defaulting on its debt could hoist interest rates, weaken the dollar and erode the dollar's reserve currency status.
As the dollar gets weaker, US exports get cheaper and our exports to the US get expensive. With a weak dollar, the oil exporters adjust their dollar prices upward to compensate, thereby forcing oil importers (like us) to bear higher energy costs and suffer the resultant rise in the prices of energy-dependent products and services. As the prices of oil rise, most commodity prices will raise leading to reduction of real incomes. When real incomes drop, consumers start to reduce consumption of luxury goods such as diamonds and the fact that our prices in the US then become expensive does not help our case. As Botswana from this we face another deficit in the balance of payments like that during the 2008 crisis.
The US dollar has always had the privilege of being the sole reserve currency in the world which meant that USA has been the only country with no foreign exchange risk when buying back its debt as it never faces the problem of an increase in foreign debt as the value of its currency declines. Most countries have their reserves in US Dollars and are worried that the continued weakening of the dollar may cause losses in their foreign reserves which cannot be offset by other overseas investment earnings. The big developing countries, those referred to as the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), are making some effort to protect them from what they see as steady erosion in the value of the American currency; in a summit of the BRICS in Hainan recently, they agreed to make trade settlements with each other in their own currencies and not in US dollars. They also announced, “We support the reform and improvement of the international monetary system, with a broad-based international reserve currency system providing stability and certainty.”
The support to the international monetary system reform should become widespread after this turmoil; countries should follow on the path of the BRICS, encourage trade in other currency and most importantly diversify markets; reliance on one major economy creates instability. It will take a long time for the US Dollar to lose its sole reserve currency and the repercussions of the Dollar not being the centre of the world could introduce radical change to the lifestyles for both those in the US and other countries particularly those with currencies pegged to the Dollar, large foreign reserves and those receiving aid from the US while European and African countries who have loans in US Dollars will enjoy lower debt.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The euro's real trouble (The ECONOMIST)

ANYONE struggling to understand why Europe has proved incapable of putting an end to the euro’s crisis might find answers in a bad-tempered dinner at a summit on October 28th 2010. The argument was over a demand by the leaders of Germany and France, made days earlier at Deauville, for a treaty change to create a permanent system to rescue countries unable to pay their debts. Everyone groaned. It had taken years of tribulation to agree on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, which had only recently come into effect. But they bowed to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who wanted to prevent any challenge to the new system by Germany’s constitutional court.

However, Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), worried about something else: her demand that future bail-outs must include “adequate participation of private creditors”, meaning losses for bondholders. That could only alarm the markets, he thought, still jittery after the Greek crisis in the spring. “You don’t realise the gravity of the situation…” began Mr Trichet. But he was cut off by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who interjected, one Frenchman to another: “Perhaps you speak to bankers. We, we are answerable to our citizens.” Mrs Merkel chimed in: taxpayers could not be asked to foot the whole bill, not when they had just paid to save the banks.
The politicians won the day. But Mr Trichet’s worries have also been vindicated, as contagion has spread and is now engulfing Italy (see article). The dinner-table row illustrates how, throughout the sovereign-debt crisis, the requirements of financial crisis-management have collided with political, legal and emotional priorities. Indeed, the euro’s woes are as much about politics as about finance. European officials such as Mr Trichet parrot that the euro zone’s overall debt and deficit are sounder than America’s. Yet Europe lacks the big federal budgets and financial institutions to redistribute income and absorb economic shocks. And it has no single polity to mediate tensions within and between member countries. It is hard enough to get Californians to save Wall Street bankers; no wonder Germans bristle when they are asked to rescue Greek bureaucrats.


Sunday, 17 July 2011


While I prefer and rather enjoy writing on local happenings, I can’t help but join the rest of the world in gazing at the biggest markets, The United States of America and European Union, as they struggle with debt. Euro zone countries are battling with collapsing economies and debt ridden states while the US is in denial of a $14 trillion debt of which is in need of debt ceiling revision, otherwise, the US economy will face severe shocks pulling the global financial markets with it.
The EU is experiencing a situation of uncontrollable debt crisis; we have seen countries like Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, all in huge debt and now Italy with one of the world's highest levels of public debt - at around 120% of gross domestic product, second only to Greece in the euro zone.

The US’s debt ceiling is ever changing, ranging from 60% as a percentage of GDP during Bill Clinton’s second term to 80% during George Bush’s term and now reaching a 100% of GDP. The US has a debt ceiling law which allows Congress to increase or lower the debt limit. The US is in this situation because the government spends more (than it receives) on bailouts, medicare, military supply, and social welfare and receives fewer taxes than can be attained. The public debt is the people’s money, and today, the people are coming up short. Shrinking the public debt means shrinking more than just the services the government is expected to provide. It means shrinking the money supply itself, along with the ability to provide the jobs, wages and purchasing power necessary for a thriving economy.’ Ellen Brown, on the current situation of the US.
As per Wednesday 13/07/11, there was a deadlock on how the US would reduce its debt, there are basically 2 positions; 1. Punish the poor and save the rich or 2. Punish the rich and save the poor. It’s very clear that both wings need to come to a compromise to deal with this issue. In the mean time, we analyze potential problems facing the US and the rest of the world 
should a compromise not be reached soon.

If no agreement is reached, If the government subsequently admitted that it would be unable to meet some of its obligations, then confidence in the United States would evaporate overnight (the US losing its triple-A rating, leading to a massive crash in the dollar, dramatically higher interest rates (due to a loss of creditworthiness) and a crash in equities markets. Thus, global banking and financial market liquidity could dry up. Lending between institutions and people or businesses could possibly cease altogether or become cost prohibitive. Further, the US government will effectively start to run out of money to pay civil servants, government contractors, pensioners or holders of government debt.

The shock would quickly spread throughout the world and would very likely lead to a serious global recession, possibly worse than the one seen a few years ago. Lest we all forget the challenges brought forth by the crisis, but in case you forgot; most notable to us in Botswana is the tightening of consumer spending on luxuries, decline in diamond revenues and subsequently government revenues. Our economy is government driven and any cuts in government spending we have seen cause a big uproar from the civil servants and of course our local economy-tenderpreneurs suffer the most.

The debt ceiling is simply a cap on how much money the government can owe both locally and internationally. For instance, debt ceiling for Botswana is 20% of GDP, and currently we are around 18% and we know of  government efforts in trying to reduce the deficit by not only increasing revenues but by reducing government spending. Money is an inflow and outflow of debits and credits, the liabilities of the government are the assets of the private economy; the national debt is what backs the money supply. While this may be, we should be careful not to let it get out of control; many lessons are to be learnt from the ‘superpower’ economies.