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Credit draws a picture of future GDP expectations

In the absence of any significant local economic shifts, the Bank of Namibia chose to keep the repo rate unchanged at 5.5%. As usual the Monetary Policy Committee gave a brief overview of international, regional and domestic conditions. It is noticeable that these overviews have become brief and condensed compared to a year or two ago, which is also an indication that not much is happening on the local front. Personally, I think this is also an indication of the bank’s new leadership finding and maintaining its own level of confidence.
Nevertheless, the MPC overview is always a helpful tool to identify those economic issues that occupy the minds of the policy makers for that particular period. The committee’s views on international conditions reflect a healthy preoccupation with conditions in South Africa, which are perhaps not as irrelevant as the turmoil that is Europe and Japan.
South Africa determines the benchmark for regional interest rates, it determines the exchange rate of most economies in southern Africa, even those that trade in US dollars. It also determines regional inflation excluding rogue states, and finally, South African credit growth has a major impact on overall liquidity in at least the SACU members.
But it does not determine domestic growth rates although its own meagre growth tends to be a drag on the entire region. The MPC’s views on inflation are conservative but balanced. This does not require astute analysis. Our inflation is a function of South African inflation since we import more than 80% of everything from them. So it is easy to look at their inflation estimates and add a fraction of a percentage point, to come to a relatively reliable future view on local inflation.
Perhaps most noteworthy in the MPC statement is the observation that credit extension to the private sector moderated somewhat month on month from March to April. In my view, the committee rightly describes this as high although it must be remembered, there is a very direct transmission mechanism between government debt, credit extension and GDP growth.
The April reading of 13.96% is also not much above the historical mean which tend to run at about 13%. It was only in 2009 and 2010 that this fell below 6% but it was more than compensated for by the explosive 19% growth during 2007 and 2008.
When one compares the GDP forecasts as published by the Ministry of Finance as part of the budget process, to the Private Sector Credit Extension statistics, one finds the strong correlation between credit and GDP. To my mind, the forward view on GDP is the official expectation for growth, and it determines to a large degree, the final decision on exactly how much stimulation the economy requires in the current fiscal year.
It is very significant that nominal GDP growth is forecast at just short of 12% per annum for the next three years. All the projections in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework hinge on this one base calculation to set a benchmark for future growth. The implication of this is that the finance ministry actually wants a Private Sector Credit Extension reading slightly above 13%. It is perhaps the clearest signal to our financial policy makers that the broader economy is on track to achieve the projected GDP growth. Remember, the viability of all other calculations and projections, critically depend on how realistic GDP forecasts are.
This also reveals the intellectual reasoning behind setting interest rates. If Private Sector Credit Extension continues to grow at or just above 13%, interest rates will remain static. If it tends to go below 12%, the economy is not performing in line with projections and the repo rate will come down. In the wake will follow massive stimulation in the form of more government paper. If it blows out, reaching for 19% or even higher, the repo rate will be increased and some stimulation withdrawn.
And if you do not agree with my analysis, look at the second last paragraph in the MPC statement.
“The continued widening of the trade deficit may further affect the level of reserves, and warrants monitoring. Nevertheless, the official international reserve position, in May 2013, remained adequate to protect the fixed currency arrangement as well as meeting other international obligations.”
This brief reference to foreign reserves supports my notion that as long as we are able to maintain our currency peg and serve our international obligations, we shall remain in a low interest rate environment. If credit extension continues to moderate, expect a decrease in repo of 0.25 percentage points. Just don’t ask me when.

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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