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Shackled to a currency of ruin

“It is important to note that while a country can achieve some competitiveness in the short term through the management of the exchange rate, a sustainable way to achieve robust international competitiveness is through growth in productivity and improved efficiency among domestic economic entities. In this regard, [the Botswana] Government will continue to implement public sector reforms, and undertake other structural reforms to improve productivity in the economy.”
This quote comes from the budget speech by the Botswana finance minister to his parliament in February this year. In that same address, the minister referred to the review of the Pula exchange rate mechanism which was done in December last year. The Pula is pegged to a basket of currencies, notably the Rand (50%) and the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (50%) which in turn is an accounting unit value based on the US Dollar, the Euro, the Yen and lately also the Renminbi.
The outcome of this arrangement is that during 2015, the Pula appreciated by 13.6% against the Rand and only depreciated by 11.6% against the SDR. Compare this to the more than 30% the Namibia Dollar lost in value during 2015 and it becomes obvious why I argue the Rand has become our albatross.
The statement put out this week by the Bank of Namibia after conclusion of the Monetary Policy Meeting on Tuesday, is far more revealing than any previous statements. It is not so much what the statement says than what it does not, that shows the true flavour of the relationship we have with the South African currency.
In the past, our foreign reserves were typically quoted as the benchmark that determines our ability to maintain the par link to the Rand. In this week’s statement, reference is made to the impressive growth in foreign reserves, conveniently omitting that it has put an enormous US$750 million burden on the economy. But again, since we now have so much foreign reserves, we do not need to worry about the peg, as if that will compensate us for the 30% decrease in the value of our own currency. It is a very simple comparison. If the Namibia Dollar lost more than 30% of its value, then the cost of servicing the interest on our offshore loans, including the latest Eurobond, goes up by more than 30%. So watch that item always indicated in the budget as “Statutory expenses.” This is where our interest payments are hidden and it is set to explode.
Comparing the performance of the Pula to our Dollar, I am struck by the neurotic attachment we have to the now maligned Rand. Granted, it is our door to international trade. Without a Rand link, we do not have access to any significant foreign market. The Rand is our gateway. Were we to consider listing the Namibia Dollar on the Chicago Currency Board for instance, I presume the financial world will regard it as a joke.
And to trade a currency internationally is fairly expensive. I do not think we will be able to afford it.
The emphasis in the MPC statement has clearly shifted to interest rate convergence between South Africa and Namibia. This is true since capital will flow where it earns the biggest return and if the repo rate in SA is higher than here, money will go that way, and soon our local banking system will be penalised by tight liquidity. This has often happened until about 2003 and we were always forced to maintain a (at that time) a bank rate between 1.5 and 2 percentage points higher than South Africa’s repo rate.
Since then, the dynamics have changed dramatically and I doubt we need to maintain a higher local interest rate regime to maintain liquidity. The same repo rate here as there is probably adequate to ensure sufficient local liquidity. This much is inferred in the MPC statement where it says the repo rate had to be raised to align it with South Africa’s.
In between all our development plans and the plethora of interventions and strategies, we also need to look at an exchange rate arrangement that is more to our benefit. This is where the Botswana example becomes a clear pointer.
The Botswana and Namibian economies are comparable in many aspects. If it works for the Pula, then there is not reason why it can not work for us.
A second, more daring venture will be to start investigating the options for pooling the Pula and the Namibia Dollar. In such a setup, our Dollar and the Pula will be linked on par, while the pool of both currencies will be linked only 50% to the Rand. If you doubt the benefits to us, just reread the first and second paragraphs. The data says it all.

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Sanlam 2018 Annual Results

7 March 2019


Sanlam’s 2018 annual results provides testimony to its resilience amid challenging operating conditions and negative investment markets

Sanlam today announced its operational results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018. The Group made significant progress in strategic execution during 2018. This included the acquisition of the remaining 53% stake in SAHAM Finances, the largest transaction concluded in the Group’s 100-year history, and the approval by Sanlam shareholders of a package of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) transactions that will position the Group well for accelerated growth in its South African home market.

Operational results for 2018 included 14% growth in the value of new life insurance business (VNB) on a consistent economic basis and more than R2 billion in positive experience variances, testimony to Sanlam’s resilience in difficult times.

The Group relies on its federal operating model and diversified profile in dealing with the challenging operating environment, negative investment markets and volatile currencies. Management continues to focus on growing existing operations and extracting value from recent corporate transactions to drive enhanced future growth.

The negative investment market returns and higher interest rates in a number of markets where the Group operates had a negative impact on growth in operating earnings and some other key performance indicators. This was aggravated by weak economic growth in South Africa and Namibia and internal currency devaluations in Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Substantial growth in Santam’s operating earnings (net result from financial services) and satisfactory growth by Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) and Sanlam Corporate offset softer contributions from Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) and Sanlam Investment Group (SIG).

Key features of the 2018 annual results include:

Net result from financial services increased by 4% compared to the same period in 2017;

Net value of new covered business up 8% to R2 billion (up 14% on a consistent economic basis);

Net fund inflows of R42 billion compared to R37 billion in 2017;

Adjusted Return on Group Equity Value per share of 19.4% exceeded the target of 13.0%; and

Dividend per share of 312 cents, up 8%.

Sanlam Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ian Kirk said: “We are satisfied with our performance in a challenging operating environment. We will continue to focus on managing operations prudently and diligently executing on our strategy to deliver sustainable value to all our stakeholders. The integration of SAHAM Finances is progressing well. In addition, Sanlam shareholders approved the package of B-BBEE transactions, including an equity raising, at the extraordinary general meeting held on 12 December 2018. Our plan to implement these transactions this year remains on track.”

Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) net result from financial services declined by 5%, largely due to the impact of new growth initiatives and dampened market conditions. Excluding the new initiatives, SPF’s contribution was 1% down on 2017 due to the major impact that the weak equity market performance in South Africa had on fund-based fee income.

SPF’s new business sales increased by 4%, an overall satisfactory result under challenging conditions. Sanlam Sky’s new business increased by an exceptional 71%. Strong growth of 13% in the traditional individual life channel was augmented by the Capitec Bank credit life new business recognised in the first half of 2018, and strong demand for the new Capitec Bank funeral product. The Recurring premium and Strategic Business Development business units also achieved strong growth of 20%, supported by the acquisition of BrightRock in 2017. Glacier new business grew marginally by 1%. Primary sales onto the Linked Investment Service Provider (LISP) platform improved by 5%, an acceptable result given the pressure on investor confidence in the mass affluent market. This was however, offset by lower sales of wrap funds and traditional life products.

The strong growth in new business volumes at Sanlam Sky had a major positive effect on SPF’s VNB growth, which increased by 7% (14% on a comparable basis).

Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) grew its net result from financial services by 14%. Excluding the impact of corporate activity, earnings were marginally up on 2017 (up 8% excluding the increased new business strain).

New business volumes at SEM increased by 20%. Namibia performed well, increasing new business volumes by 22% despite weak economic conditions. Both life and investment new business grew strongly. Botswana underperformed with the main detractor from new business growth being the investment line of business, which declined by 24%. This line of business is historically more volatile in nature.

The new business growth in the Rest of Africa portfolio was 68% largely due to corporate activity relating to SAHAM Finances, with the East Africa portfolio underperforming.

The Indian insurance businesses continued to perform well, achieving double-digit growth in both life and general insurance in local currency. The Malaysian businesses are finding some traction after a period of underperformance, increasing their overall new business contribution by 3%. New business production is not yet meeting expectations, but the mix of business improved at both businesses.

SEM’s VNB declined by 3% (up 6% on a consistent economic basis and excluding corporate activity). The relatively low growth on a comparable basis is largely attributable to the new business underperformance in East Africa.

Sanlam Investment Group’s (SIG) overall net result from financial services declined by 6%, attributable to lower performance fees at the third party asset manager in South Africa, administration costs incurred for system upgrades in the wealth management business and lower earnings from equity-backed financing transactions at Sanlam Specialised Finance. The other businesses did well to grow earnings, despite the pressure on funds under management due to lower investment markets.

New business volumes declined by 13% mainly due to market volatility and low investor confidence in South Africa. Institutional new inflows remained weak for the full year, while retail inflows also slowed down significantly after a more positive start to the year. The international businesses, UK, attracted strong new inflows (up 57%).

Sanlam Corporate’s net result from financial services increased by 4%, with the muted growth caused by a continuation of high group risk claims experience. Mortality and disability claims experience weakened further in the second half of the year, which is likely to require more rerating of premiums in 2019. The administration units turned profitable in 2018, a major achievement. The healthcare businesses reported satisfactory double-digit growth in earnings, while the Absa Consultants and Actuaries business made a pleasing contribution of R39 million.

New business volumes in life insurance more than doubled, reflecting an exceptional performance. Single premiums grew by 109%, while recurring premiums increased by a particularly satisfactory 56%.

The good growth in recurring and single premium business, combined with modelling improvements, supported a 64% (71% on a comparable economic basis) increase in the cluster’s VNB contribution.

Following a year of major catastrophe events in 2017, Santam experienced a relatively benign claims environment in 2018. Combined with acceptable growth in net earned premiums, it contributed to a 37% increase in gross result from financial services (41% after tax and non-controlling interest). The conventional insurance book achieved an underwriting margin of 9% in 2018 (6% in 2017).

As at 31 December 2018, discretionary capital amounted to a negative R3.7 billion before allowance for the planned B-BBEE share issuance. A number of capital management actions during 2018 affected the balance of available discretionary capital, including the US$1 billion (R13 billion) SAHAM Finances transaction. Cash proceeds from the B-BBEE share issuance will restore the discretionary capital portfolio to between R1 billion and R1.5 billion depending on the final issue price within the R74 to R86 price range approved by shareholders.

Looking forward, the Group said economic growth in South Africa would likely remain weak in the short to medium term future, and would continue to impact efforts to accelerate organic growth. The outlook for economic growth in other regions where the Group operates is more promising. Recent acquisitions such as the SAHAM transaction should also support operational performance going forward.

“We remain focused on executing our strategy. We are confident that we have the calibre of management and staff to prudently navigate the anticipated challenges going forward,” Mr Kirk concluded.

Details of the results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018 are available at