Tue, 18 Feb 2020

At the start of 2019, the World Bank and other financial institutions predicted that South Africa's economy would grow at around 1.3% in 2019.

This figure has been repeatedly downgraded, with the SA Reserve Bank anticipating growth of just 0.5% - below the GDP growth SA achieved in 2018 and well below the mean of other emerging market economies.

But the effects of sustained load shedding in the fourth quarter of the year may make even the SARB's latest prediction look too rosy.

"We now see growth at 0.4% this year," said market research company Intellidex in its latest research report on SA, published on Tuesday. Rotational power cuts may cut this figure by 0.1% to 0.3%.*

Eskom implemented stage 6 power cuts for the first time on Monday evening, which allows for up to 6 000MW to be shed. The debt-laden power utility said the implementation of stage 6 cuts - which lasted until 10pm - were necessitated by severe capacity constraints caused by a combination of unplanned outages and flooding at some power stations.

Slow reforms

"For us the issue still comes back to the growth forecast at all times - real ground-breaking reforms would cause us to shift the forecast higher, otherwise we stay put - the rest is spin," Peter Attard Montalto, the head of Capital Markets Research at Intellidex, said in the report.

He said the slow pace of reforms implemented under Ramaphosa was being overshadowed by things like load shedding and crises at state-run entities.

Last week SAA was placed under business rescue, while Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula announced on Monday that he was placing the Passenger Rail Agency of SA under administration.

READ: Stage 6 load shedding a major blow to growth, tax revenue - economists

"Overall it seems not only is Ramaphoria dead (it was never alive) but the long arc of reform potential is being lost in the discourse. It is for precisely this reason that we have always argued reforms needed to be much faster," said Montalto.

He argued that Ramaphosa was lacking a team of effective "implementers and communicators".

"What slow positive change is occurring is getting rapidly lost."

Talk of a recession

SA fell into a recession in 2018 following two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Positive growth in the remaining two quarters of the year, however, managed to boost GDP growth for the year to 0.8%.

But sustained load shedding has worsened the prospect of another recession, according to some market watchers, after the economy contracted by 0.6% in the third quarter.

"Eskom stated that load shedding would probably be with us for a further two years. South Africa could end 2019 in a recession which could lead to the downgrade to junk status," said Andre Botha, Senior Dealer at TreasuryONE.

The load shedding has already led some mines to halt operations, which Siobhan Redford of RMB called "unprecedented" in a morning update.

"A full shift's worth of production [was] lost - which not only means that mining production will take a hit, but it could also negatively impact employment in the industry, especially should stage 4 and above load shedding continue."

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