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Surprise Growth Makes South Africa’s Economy Bigger Than Before Pandemic Struck

 

(Bloomberg) — South Africa’s economy is bigger than before the coronavirus pandemic struck, after growing faster than expected in the third quarter on increased farm output.

Gross domestic product expanded 1.6% in the three months through September, compared with a contraction of 0.7% in the previous quarter, Statistics South Africa said Tuesday in a report released in the capital, Pretoria. The median of 12 economists’ estimates in a Bloomberg survey was for growth of 0.4%. The economy grew 4.1% from a year earlier.

Full-year growth may also surprise on the upside. The central bank forecasts an expansion of 1.8% and the National Treasury 1.9%. For the nine months through September, an early indicator of where full-year growth may land, GDP grew by 2.3% from last year.

The 2.3% expansion in the first three quarters is a “reasonable indicator” of the annual number, said Joe de Beer, deputy director-general of economic statistics at the agency. “I can’t see it differing by more than” half a percentage point “from just a mathematics point of view,” he said.

“After taking into account the firmer-than-expected third-quarter figure, we expect growth to average closer to 2.5% in 2022, before slowing to just above 1% next year,” said Sanisha Packirisamy, an economist at Momentum Investments.

At an annualized 4.6 trillion rand ($265 billion) in the third quarter, GDP is about 53 billion rand bigger than the fourth quarter of 2019, before the pandemic struck. A contraction in the prior three months had reversed gains made in the first quarter that made it bigger.

The quarterly expansion comes even after Africa’s most-industrialized economy experienced record power cuts because state electricity utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. couldn’t keep pace with demand from its old and poorly maintained plants. Industries behind the better-than-expected growth were agriculture and transport, which grew 19.2% and 3.7% quarter-on-quarter respectively.

Strong exports of mineral, vegetable and paper products also contributed.

Still, South Africa’s economy remains stuck in its longest downward phase since World War II and hasn’t grown by more than 5% annually in 15 years. The government’s National Development Plan, a 2012 economic blueprint co-authored by President Cyril Ramaphosa, says that level of expansion is needed for sustainable job creation in a nation where almost a third of the workforce is unemployed.

Slow structural reforms, political uncertainty and high levels of crime continue to weigh on fixed-investment spending in South Africa, with private companies wary of committing large sums of money to domestic projects. Gross fixed capital formation climbed 0.3% from the previous quarter.

Household spending, which comprises about two-thirds of GDP, declined 0.3% in the third quarter. It’s likely to come under further strain from high inflation and interest rates that are at a level last seen more than five years ago.

Weak growth is forecast for the final quarter because of continued rolling blackouts and a strike over wages that took place at Transnet SOC Ltd., South Africa’s state-owned logistics company that operates most of the harbors in the nation, in October. The central bank forecasts expansion of 0.1% this quarter.

Lackluster economic growth and mounting price pressures pose a threat to social stability in one of the world’s most unequal societies and may stymie efforts to reduce fiscal deficits and debt.

–With assistance from Simbarashe Gumbo and Rene Vollgraaff.

(Updates with economist comment in paragraph five. An earlier version corrected household spending figure in paragraph 11)

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

 

Main Photo: South African History Online

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