SA’s economic downturn now longest in three quarters of a century

By Prinesha Naidoo

(Bloomberg) — South Africa’s economy remains stuck in its longest downward cycle since 1945, adding to the risk that it may fall into its second recession in a year.

The economy entered the 67th month of a weakening cycle in June, according to the Reserve Bank’s Quarterly Bulletin released Thursday in the capital, Pretoria. That’s after gross domestic product contracted the most in a decade in the three months through March.

Africa’s most-industrialized economy went through a recession in 2018 and it shrank again in the first quarter of this year as the nation suffered the worst power outages since 2008. While electricity supply from state-owned Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. has since stabilized, business and factory confidence dropped in May and spending by households, which make up 60% of GDP, remains weak.

The Reserve Bank forecasts the economy, which hasn’t expanded at more than 2% since 2013, will only achieve 1% growth this year.

The only other time that a falling cycle lasted more than 50 months, was between 1989 and 1993, when the former government renewed a state of emergency and the country prepared for its first democratic elections. The central bank monitors about 200 indicators representing economic processes such as production, sales, employment and prices to determine the direction of the trend.

These are some of the other highlights from the Quarterly Bulletin for the three months through March:

  • Foreign direct investment inflows totaled 11.7 billion rand ($823 million), compared with an outflow of 8.2 billion rand in the previous quarter.
  • Portfolio investment was 29.2 billion rand. South Africa relies on these inflows to help fund its current-account deficit, which widened to 2.9% of GDP in the three months through March.
  • Household debt as a ratio of disposable income declined to 72.5% from 72.7%.
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