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BoB double edged sword rate cut hovering on banking sector

Publishing Date : 25 November, 2019

Author : TSAONE SEGAETSHO

Botswana and other developed economies usually take monetary decisions such as to adjust repo rate or interest-rate to keep inflation within a target range for the health of economic activities or cap the interest rate concurrently with economic growth to safeguard economic momentum.


As a globally recognised banking norm or custom, the repo rate determines the Bank rate to which the central bank lends money to commercial banks and this then affects the amount they lend to their consumers.  But the decision to cut or hike the repo rate may also come with disadvantages, hence central banks are often seen to be taking tough political decisions which come as a double edged sword. In the case of Botswana, a surprise development by Bank of Botswana (BoB), at the August Monetary Committee Policy meeting, decided that the repo rate be cut by 25 basis points from 5 percent to 4.75 percent, came with ripple effects according to banking and finance pundits.


According to the recent Stockbrokers Botswana banking sector study, the rate cut will result in a “squeeze” in banks’ Net Interest Margins (NIMs) with no or little pass on effect to deposit rates considering that these are already very low and the need for banks to remain competitive to attract funds. The stockbroker advised that a cut in repo rate or any future slash on the interest rate, will need the banking sector to be vigilant as there will be need to diversify and grow non-interest income.


It came as a surprise when BoB made an important development  in the banking sector by slashing the Bank rate by 25 basis points from 5 percent to 4.75 percent at August MPC meeting. The central bank August repo rate cut came as an unexpected shock to many because BoB has maintained the Bank rate for two years. The last time such a big development in Botswana’s monetary policy occurred was in October 2017, when the Bank rate was reduced by 50 basis points from 5.5 percent to 5 percent.


A lot of questions as to why the rate was cut in August were relentless, with some suspecting the move as political, given that elections were a month away. However, the central bank marshalled its position, saying the interest rate slash was more forecast based as it was a way of resuming domestic monetary policy easing in the backdrop of slow economic growth and inflation.


 Furthermore BoB also suggested that what is rolling out both for the domestic and external economic activity provides scope for easing monetary policy to support economic activity. “With inflation low and stable and inflation expectations well anchored, improving total factor productivity remains key in promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth,” BoB Governor Moses Pelaelo told journalists after the August rate cut decision.


BoB August move to cut Bank rate was a huge leap, a jump on the bandwagon, as policy makers across were taking aggressive albeit surprise decision to cut their interest rates. Many economists believe this was a general response to the trade war between China and the US, an economic sneeze which got the entire globe to catch economic flu.


In August when Botswana slashed its benchmark rate, there have been a net 14 cuts by policy makers across the world and this is the highest number since central banks around the globe ramped up measures on how to attain growth in the wake of global financial crisis.
In October emerging market and developing economies policymakers slashed interest rates further, as their central banks were joining the US Federal Reserve Bank in efforts to shore up their economies. This month a group of 37 developing economies showed a net 9 cuts last month (October), after a net 11 cuts in September.


Botswana’s economic influential neighbor and big import player, South African Reserve Bank (SARB) in South Africa, decided to cut by 25 basis points, from 6.75 percent to 6.50 percent in July, a month later this country shed the same percent.  South Africa shed Bank rate due to inflationary and economic reasons same as Botswana.


Another surprise is coming soon as the banking sector, experts and observers have not ruled out another cut of 25(or more) basis points rate cut in the short term. BoB has not had the penchant of hiking rates since 2008; instead the central bank has always been keeping the benchmark rate at lows from the highs of 15.5 percent in 2008 to the lowest current levels at 5 percent before slashing it further to 4.75 percent three months ago.


Stockbrokers Botswana in its banking research further said it has conducted interviews, had conversations with the banking fraternities, discussing prediction on the future of the banking sector. Part of the predictions was expectation of another 25 basis points rate cute.
“Conversations with the titans of banking have also led us to believe that we have not reached the bottom of the cycle as yet. There is a general expectation of another 25 bps rate cut in the short term; which spells further pressure on industry NIMs and the increased need to diversify and grow non-interest income,” said Stockbrokers Botswana in its recent banking study.


Financial consultant Fitch Solutions in July this year had forecasted that BoB will cut bank rate by 50 basis point, from 5 percent to 4.5 percent this year and maintain the rate until 2020. Barely a few weeks in the month of August, Governor Pelaelo pronounced the 25 basis points rate. Filtch’s predictions were vindicated despite its rating cut being 25 percent less than BoB’s slash.  Fitch Solutions is the industry-leading provider of credit, debt market, and macro intelligence solutions and primary distributor of credit ratings’ sister agency Fitch Ratings.


Fitch Solutions’ forecast on Botswana that time was due to the slowed economic growth and muted credit growth that has struggled to rebound from a steady decline between May 2012 and September 2017. This year, just into the second quarter, credit growth was 6.5 percent as compared to 2011/18 average of 13.2 percent and this hindered growth of private consumption and investment.


In latest statistics, annual commercial bank credit growth for the year to September 2019 slowed to 6.1 percent compared to 8.1 percent in the same period last year.  According to Stockbrokers Botswana, this slowdown was a result of a contraction in lending to businesses on the back of decreased utilization of existing credit facilities, loan repayments by some firms in certain sectors and base effects from higher credit growth in the second half of 2018. However household credit growth continued to increase substantially as it is driven by this financial year civil servant salary increment, says Stockbrokers Botswana.


October Inflation

Latest Statistics Botswana data shows that prices have decreased to 2.4 percent from 3 percent in September 2019. This decrease in inflation during October 2019 reflects the easing in the rate of annual change in prices for some categories of goods and services, led by ‘Transport’ (from 6.2 to 2.7 percent – largely because of base effects associated with fuel price increase in October 2018). 

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