Cavan Osborne | Portfolio Manager, OLD MUTUAL EQUITIES
- Botswana: Africa’s role model
- Stable currency, top performer
- Africa’s only non-oil producer to run current account surpluses
We are just back from visiting Botswana’s capital city,
Gaborone. Botswana is our single largest overweight (by
country) in the Old Mutual Africa Frontiers Fund − well, given
that it is not in our MSCI Africa benchmark1, we are always
either going to neutral or overweight.
Botswana has long been the African poster child for good
governance and political stability. It does help that there are
only around two million people and it is one of the least densely
populated countries on earth (after Mongolia and Namibia, but
ignoring some of the island nations like the Falklands and
Greenland). It is one of the only non-oil producers in Africa that
regularly runs fiscal and current account surpluses.
The Botswana Stock Exchange performance has also been an
African poster child. The stock market has been one of the best
performers, up 11% year-to-date in US dollar terms, and the
currency has been one of the more stable through the recent
global market volatility (depreciating just 7% since the start of
BLACKOUTS, WATER OUTAGES
Despite its stability, operating conditions are tough in the
country. Given that much of its power is sourced from Eskom
in South Africa, it, too, is experiencing blackouts.
It is also experiencing the worst drought in over 20 years
(since 1992), so there are water outages and restrictions.
While southern Botswana is never going to be classified as
tropical, I didn’t see a blade of grass in Gaborone. Coming
home to our guest house one evening, we got to experience
how so many people on the continent live: without running
water or lights. We were, at least, thankful for the Egyptian
cotton sheets, which most of Africa don’t know exist.
The drought is leading to downward economic growth
projections for this year. So after averaging growth of around
7% a year, GDP growth this year is forecast at a more modest
4% for 2015.
The Botswana Stock Exchange has 23 listed shares and trade
averages less than US$1 million a day. Kenya’s Nairobi
Securities Exchange, with 65 companies, trades around
US$10 million a day. Botswana’s largest listed companies are
First National Bank Botswana (US$1 billion) and the regional
micro-lender Letshego (US$700 million), followed by
supermarket group Choppies, which recently dual listed on
Botswana still screens right at the top of our ranking sheet,
helped by the high “country” score we assigned to our
calculations. We have exposure to two listed companies. One
is the local brewer and Coca-Cola bottler, Sechaba Brewery.
It produces both clear beer and traditional beer. Traditional
beer is made from sorghum, a locally grown grain. The current president, Ian Khama, is against alcohol consumption
and has introduced measures in an attempt to reduce drinking.
These measures include high taxes. Well, technically, he has
introduced an ever-rising alcohol levy. With Botswana being
part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC),
the excise tax on alcohol has to be in line with the other
countries in the region. So instead, he added on a levy.
More recently, he introduced rules that led to the closing of most
“beer gardens”. Basically, he’s making it very difficult to get a
licence to operate anywhere near to where people actually live
(for instance, the business can’t be within 500m of a school or
place of worship). While other countries have introduced similar
laws, Botswana is one of the few countries where monitoring
and policing has taken place.
What this all means is that Sechaba has effectively become like
a tobacco stock:
- New competition is unlikely.
- Prices piggyback off levy increases (blame the government
for increased prices).
- Higher prices mean slower volume, which means less
- Marketing restrictions mean less advertising spend.
- Less advertising spend and capex results in higher
Interestingly, Sechaba has introduced an innovative product in
an attempt to recapture some of the lost traditional beer volume.
It is selling a DIY pack. The pack sells for 10 pula (about
US$1). You place this milled sorghum powder into a five-litre
container and let it brew overnight. So instead of Sechaba
brewing it, you brew it yourself. Traditional beer is known as
Chibuku Shake Shake. You need to “shake shake” before
consuming, as the sorghum and water tend to separate… I say
consume rather than drink, because the product is like porridge
so consuming is somewhere between eating and drinking.
MUDSLINGING AS SADC LEADERSHIP TRANSITIONS
While we were in Botswana, the SADC was holding its annual
meeting. At the ceremony, Robert Mugabe handed over
chairmanship to Botswana's Ian Khama. In his handover
speech, Mugabe explained that President Ian Khama's problem
was that his father had sinned by falling in love with a white
woman (Ian Khama's father, and former president of Botswana,
Seretse Khama, married a white woman). Khama then took a
swipe at African leaders who fail to pass on power. It is very
seldom you see African leaders speak out against each other
publicly – so this was certainly a step forward for the continent.
1 MSCI Emerging Frontier Market Africa ex SA Index
2 The Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières SA (BRVM) is a regional stock exchange serving Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.