The Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) is an update by the National Treasury of the South African government’s financial health relative to what was proposed in the main Budget Review tabled in February.
In his opening remarks Finance Minister Tito Mboweni presented an Aloe ferox to the House, which he highlighted had survived a bitter cold winter during which the ground had become hard.
The Minister likened this plant to the toil that the average South African has been enduring through these challenging economic times.
While the 2019 MTBPS provided a reasonable framework given the challenging circumstances, Minister Mboweni emphasised that the timely implementation of much-needed structural reform was the silver bullet that would provide the fundamental support required for the South African economy to grow meaningfully and sustainably.
In sum, the MTBPS highlighted that chronically poor economic growth is putting pressure on tax revenue collection, while expenditure pressures continue to mount as the government continues to offer assistance to ailing state-owned entities (especially Eskom). Indeed, the combination of these factors has put the government between a rock and a hard place, as sovereign debt continues to rise at increasingly unsustainable levels.
Highlights of the budget:
- In line with expectations, there was a material deterioration in the fiscal deficit. The estimate for the main budget balance widened to an average of -6.2% of GDP in 2019/20, compared to the -4.7% estimate from the 2019 Budget Review.
- There were no announcements of tax increases. The Treasury acknowledged that tax measures implemented in recent years have not translated into stronger economic growth. However, given the severity of revenue under-collection, they will still consider additional tax measures in the 2020 Budget Review.
- Encouragingly, the expenditure ceiling (which excludes Eskom) was lowered for this year and the next two years.
- The reaction of the rand has been largely negative, with the R186 bond yield spiking by roughly 16bps from yesterday’s close on release of the budget.
- A wider fiscal deficit combined with a higher debt-to-GDP ratio through the forecast horizon will be credit negative for Moody’s sovereign rating decision. However, we remain of the view that South Africa will maintain its investment grade rating status, although the possibility of being placed on a negative outlook has increased.
- Equity prices have also been adversely affected, with the JSE All Share Index falling by approximately 0.3% from yesterday’s close. In all, much needed structural reforms that lend support to lifting potential economic growth and consequently equity prices will need to be announced in the February 2020 Budget Review.