SA consumer confidence sinks to lowest level since Ramaphosa became president

2019-11-05 14:34 - Vernon Wessels
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South African consumer confidence dropped to the lowest level since Cyril Ramaphosa became president as the outlook for the economy dimmed.

The consumer-confidence index fell to -7 in the third quarter from 5 in the previous three-month period, FirstRand's First National Bank said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. That’s the weakest level since the fourth quarter of 2017, when uncertainty over who would take over from Jacob Zuma as leader of the African National Congress weighed on sentiment.

With household consumption spending that makes up about 60% of gross domestic product, the drop in confidence could further weigh on an economy that’s forecast to expand only 0.5% this year. Slow growth is adding to the state’s fiscal woes, as set out in the medium-term budget statement last week, as revenue falls short of estimates and government debt balloons.

“A confluence of adverse economic developments in all likelihood contributed to the slump in consumer sentiment,” said FNB economist Siphamandla Mkhwanazi. This included rapidly rising unemployment, declining per-capita incomes, an upsurge in attacks against foreigners in South Africa, the financial woes of state-owned power utility Eskom, and disappointment that the central bank didn’t cut interest rates to help indebted consumers, he said.

High-income consumers who earn more than R14 000 rand month were the most pessimistic as they became increasingly concerned about the outlook for their own household finances, which are further being strained by high taxes, Mkhwanazi said. On the contrary, low-income earners expected an improvement.

“Sales of new vehicles, jewelry, furniture and household appliances and other expensive luxuries are therefore expected to continue to perform poorly, while the pricing power of retailers in general will likely remain constrained during the festive season,” he said.

The reading was below the long-run average of 2 since 1994, said FNB, which compiles the data with the Bureau for Economic Research.

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The steep decline in the FNB/BER index mirrors the nosedive in the RMB/BER business confidence index, which sank to a 20-year low of 21 index points, from 28 points in the second quarter, according to the report.

Retailer confidence also took a hit in the third quarter, with 83% of retailers surveyed in the business confidence survey saying they were dissatisfied with prevailing business conditions during the third quarter. 

- Additional reporting by Allison Jeftha of Fin24