The blows keep coming for South Africa

 ·9 Mar 2023

South Africa posted a current-account deficit for the first time in three years in 2022 as imports increased and power shortages and logistics network constraints curbed exports, heightening the nation’s vulnerability to external shocks.

The balance on the current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, swung to a deficit of 0.5% of gross domestic product, or R31.8 billion, from a surplus of 3.7% in 2021, the South African Reserve Bank said in a report published Thursday.

It’s the first annual shortfall since 2019 and comes after coronavirus restrictions and global supply-chain disruptions suppressed imports.

The current-account gap and the budget shortfall, which the Treasury sees narrowing to 4% of GDP in the fiscal year through March 2024, make South Africa vulnerable to external shocks amid deteriorating global economic prospects.

In January, the World Bank cut its growth forecasts for most countries and regions and warned that new adverse shocks could tip the global economy into a recession.

The current-account balance in the fourth quarter was an annualized shortfall of 2.6% of GDP, or R174 billion, compared with an upwardly revised surplus of R3.1 billion in the previous three months.

The median of nine economists’ estimates in a Bloomberg survey was for a negative balance of 2.5% of GDP.

South Africa’s economy contracted by 1.3% in the fourth quarter, with statistics agency data showing intense rolling blackouts and declines in mining activity and exports, curtailing output growth.

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. subjected the country to power cuts, known locally as load shedding, on all but three days during the quarter, while disruptions at fellow state-owned company Transnet SOC Ltd.’s aging rail network and ports affected shipments of key commodities.

The impact of rolling blackouts and logistics infrastructure shortfalls were partially countered by the first coronavirus-restriction free summer holiday season.

The deficit on the services account, under which income from tourism falls, narrowed to R85 billion in the fourth quarter, from 108 billion in the previous three-month period. December is traditionally the most popular holiday month in South Africa.

The central bank’s quarterly projection model in January shows it expects a current-account gap of 1.7% of GDP in 2023.

The current-account balance is expected to deteriorate over the short- to medium-term due to continued electricity-supply constraints, increased investments in alternative energy solutions that will drive up imports, and a projected decline in export volumes, Governor Lesetja Kganyago said in a speech posted on the Reserve Bank’s website Tuesday.

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