South Africa’s Unconcealed Radical Regret

South African shares, after a decent 15 percent jump through July still lagging the core universe 25 percent, scrambled to react to the mixed parliamentary confidence vote message to President Zuma, who won with a slim majority despite dozens of ANC ruling party members defecting in a secret ballot. The opposition Democratic Alliance has seized on unending scandals while attempting to forge a moderate alternative to the “radical economic transformation” newly embraced by the President to rally support and engineer the possible succession of his ex-wife in 2019 elections. Recession was recorded in the first quarter with unemployment near 30 percent, and the populist platform would increase government control across agricultural, industry and financial sectors to shift the post-independence course despite local and foreign investor resistance. Land expropriation would veer toward the Zimbabwe model of minimal or no compensation for transfer to black ownership, and mining firms would have to sell or hand over 30 percent of shares over time, up from the 26 percent in the existing charter, in addition to paying a 1 percent revenue levy. The industry, whose size at 7% of GDP has shrunk with hundreds of thousands of job losses the past decade, promises to fight the changes in court as “confused and contradictory” as listed companies were dumped on the Johannesburg exchange. Deputy ANC President Ramaphosa, a Zuma rival, has sided with the business community in urging reconsideration, as a recent African ranking of mining climates put the country behind neighbors Botswana and Namibia. The central bank with its long record of steady monetary policy management is also in the crosshairs of the activist campaign as it faces calls for rand intervention and social welfare rather than price stability focus.  Commercial banks in turn are under pressure to forgive or slash high-interest consumer debt accumulated in recent years to depress sentiment. With the inflation forecast cut to 5.5 percent, the benchmark repo rate was lowered 25 basis points to 6.75 percent in July. However the Reserve Bank cautioned the relief could be temporary ahead of risk events, including another ANC conference in December and potential sovereign ratings downgrade with the agency review cycle.

Finance Minister Gigaba, a controversial pick, previewed second quarter growth in the 2 percent range while unveiling an “inclusive” stimulus plan drawing on state enterprise balance sheets to boost the economy over the medium term and forestall relegation to “junk” rating status. Fiscal consolidation is still a goal but assigned reduced priority, as a turnaround in the terms of trade and regular drought could offer respite, despite sluggish services readings and uneven rand performance against the weaker dollar this year. Agriculture was a sore spot in Kenya as well going into presidential polls with its MSCI frontier gauge up over 20 percent on expectations of voting calm and a likely second business-friendly Kenyatta term. GDP growth has sputtered below 5 percent, but billions of dollars in infrastructure projects like a China-sponsored railway should raise output while the central bank tries to cap inflation at single digits. In a June pilot government bonds were sold to retail investors by mobile phone in part to finance these ventures, and were snapped up with a 10 percent yield despite technical glitches undermining confidence.

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