As SA tries to engineer an economic revival, improving the country’s growth rate is becoming increasingly critical, and hinges on revitalising key components of the economy. We compiled a list of 12 key indicators in January 2018 that we are paying close attention to, scoring them on a regular basis to assess if SA is making meaningful progress towards an economic turnaround.

The 12 key indicators focus on a wide range of variables including political stability, policy clarity, business confidence, employment, capital expenditure, housing activity and consumer income.

April / May 2019 analysis

Taking into account recent political developments, the average score of the twelve indicators has improved modestly from 47% (4.7 out of 10) at the end of April 2019 to 51% (5.1 out of 10) at the end of May 2019.

The focus will now shift to the President’s State of the National address on 20 June 2019, and the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement in October 2019.

The President is also expected to announce his economic advisory panel, as well as dates for the 2nd Annual Investment and Job Summits.

How we score:

Every month, each indicator is scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 indicating an extremely high level of vibrancy and 1 suggesting extreme underperformance. The scores are then averaged across all 12 variables to derive the overall progress level (reflected as a percentage), which we will analyse and share with you here.

Leading economic indicator

Customer income
Fixed investment activity
Purchasing Manager's Index (PMI)
Employment
Housing activity
Confidence (business and consumer)
Tourism
Institutional strength/ SOE reform
Interest rate spread

Policy certainty
Political stability

None

 

Are we on the right track?

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his new cabinet towards the end of May 2019, following the National Election on 8 May 2019. Encouragingly the President decided to reduce the total number of ministerial portfolios from 36 (including Minister in the Presidency, President and Deputy President) to 28. This is still relatively large given South Africa’s fiscal constraints (especially if you include the number of Deputy Ministers), but a significant reduction compared with the past ten years.

Interestingly, while many previous cabinet members have been retained, most have been shifted into different portfolios (less than half the existing cabinet ministers have retained their current portfolios).

From an economic growth perspective there is understandably a focus on those cabinet ministers that represent the economic cluster, namely Minister of Finance, Public Enterprises, Economic Development, Mineral Resources, Small Business Development, Energy, Infrastructure and Trade and Industry.

Over the past 10 years the performance of these departments have been extremely disappointing, given that the economy has achieved an annual growth rate of only 1.5%, the unemployment rate has increased substantially, public sector debt levels have soared, the credit rating has been systematically lowered, tax revenue has dwindled and the country has been plagued by corruption.

Encouragingly, Tito Mboweni remains Minster of Finance despite various strong political statements arguing that he should not be re-appointed. Equally, the retention of Pravin Gordhan as Minster of Public Enterprises provides continuity at a critical time in the process of restructuring the major SOEs, including the decision to unbundle Eskom. (Hopefully, the government is able to quickly announce a new CEO for Eskom). The decision to combine the Department of Trade and Industry as well as Economic Development is applauded, while the appointment of Patricia de Lille from the Good Party at Minister responsible for public works and infrastructure was a surprise given the importance of the department, but probably a positive development given her experience and likely commitment to delivering a better infrastructure outcome.

Overall, the recent political developments (National Election and Cabinet appointments) represents a positive step forward for South Africa and puts the country in a better position to grow and develop. While it is clear that the President made some political compromises, the mix of appointments suggests that the President has been able to flex is authority.

Hopefully, the President’s focus can now start to shift away from ensuring a political revival in South Africa to encouraging an economic revival. In particular, there a growing expectation that as the noise surrounding the National Election and Cabinet appointments dissipates, government will focus more fully on encouraging private sector fixed investment and job creation.

This is obviously easier said than done given the institutional decay that has become apparent in recent years as well as the sustained low level of confidence in key parts of the private sector.

Nevertheless, the implementation of a few key policy initiatives from the newly elected government, coupled with the inherent strength of the South African corporate sector and the resilience of the household sector should result in the economy gaining some momentum into 2020.

To track our progress since the beginning of last year, visit our Knowledge Centre on https://knowledgecentre.stanlib.com/measuring-south-africas-economic-turnaround-july-2018/