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Kenya’s economy to grow at 6% in 2019 amidst Q3 growth expansion

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Q3 to maintain growth pedal

For the third quarter of 2019, Kenya’s real economic growth is likely to bounce back to 5.8 percent, above the trend of 5.3 percent. Analysts from Genghis Capital suggests the economic growth of Kenya for Q3 to be driven by the service sectors. “We doubt the going concern of the counties in the near-term. What was a tail risk situation at the start of Q2, 2019 has morphed into a base case; the unresolved Division of Revenue Bill, 2019,” said Genghis in their latest outlook. The bullish tone on the private sector at the tail end of last quarter will likely spill into Q3 2019.

A slow start of the budget cycle will offset this high degree of exuberance. The inflation rate in July touched a 3-month high of 6.3 percent from 5.7 percent in June highlighting increased pressure on the consumer spending ability.

The hike in inflation has been attributed in great part to the acceleration in the pricing of key agricultural commodities including maize and sifted grain flour and the implementation of new taxes under tax amendments by the National Treasury.

While the overall food and non-alcoholic beverages index has retreated by a single percentage point since the last review, with a slide to the pricing of commodities such as milk, potatoes and sukuma wiki, biting maize grain shortages has countered hopes for further relief to the costing of food.

“The decline in price of these commodities outweighed the observed increase in the cost of other commodities like maize grain, maize flour-loose, carrots and onions which increased by 0.52, 1.33, 6.81 and 1.19 per cent, respectively, over the same period,” noted the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) in its end month (July) inflation publication.

New taxes targeted at the ‘sin’ alcohol and cigarette industries which were made operational on July 1, 2019 to include a Ksh18 and Ksh24 hike of excise duty charged on wine and whisky respectively and a raise of a Ksh.61 tax on a packet of cigarettes have seen the index jump by 0.8 percent during the month.

At the same time, the impact of fluctuating petroleum prices has seen the cost of housing, electricity and transport rise in spite of a hold in the increase of diesel and kerosene prices by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) in mid-July.

While the impending harvest season will further support recourse in the rise of food prices; taxes, fuel costs and a depreciating shilling are, when combined, expected to anchor further shocks to the consumer disposable income represented in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) is expected to implement new excise taxes on non-alcoholic beverages and cosmetics beginning September 1, 2019 to effectively eat into the level of disposable income available to consumers.

Meanwhile, the pricing of petroleum commodities in the international market is set to remain unpredictable in the near-term irrespective of its recent cool down as tensions in the oil-rich Persian Gulf persists.

The recent devaluation of the Kenyan shilling against the US dollar will however make for the gravest concern on inflation, given the dollar’s impact on major purchases of imports and pricing of essential services including the electricity billing’s fuel-cost charge.

The shilling has been on a free-fall in the past couple of months, hitting both the two and five-year low in a matter attributed mainly to increased foreign currency demand by investors and heightened liquidity in the financial markets.

The over-supply of money in the economy has brought forth real risks of more money chasing fewer goods in a build-up which when held in the long-run poses the risk of hyper-inflation.

The shilling touched a low Ksh.104.20 valuation against the dollar at the close of trading on 23rd July before recovering marginally on the following day.

While inflation is once again on the rise, the rate holds within the government targeted range of 2.5 to 7.5 percent aligned to the ongoing medium term III plan, with the range being most recently retained for the eighth consecutive year by the National Treasury.

On the maize debate that is ongoing, analysts say they do not foresee maize supply shock to either give headline or food inflation a lift in Q3 2019. The CBK Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) reaction function signals a stable CBR at 9.0 percent in Q3 2019. Investors say they expect the local currency to be at 102.5 – 103.5 levels in Q3 2019.

At the macro level, the reduced big-ticket needs in FY2019/20, increased remittances (5.2 percent y/y to USD 1.45 billion in 1H19) and lower ADNOC Murban crude price will support the local currency.

The maturity of the 2-year bond (FXD1/2017/2Yr) in the current depressed yield environment will likely nudge its refinancing (a 2-year primary bond paper) in the month of August.

“We believe the issuance of longer tenor bonds will remain the baseline scenario although net domestic borrowing target in FY2019/20 (KES 289.2Bn) is higher than FY2018/19 (KES 255.4Bn).”

Investors should expect interbank rates to average 4.0 percent at the end of Q3 2019 from the current sub 2.0% levels. In the event a modification of the interest rate cap comes to pass at the tail end of Q3 2019, “we expect a normalization at the long end of the yield curve beginning Q4 2019.”

CBK Maintains Lending Rate

The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) on 24th July maintained the benchmark lending rate at 9 percent due to the relatively stable inflation rate.

Patrick Njoroge, CBK governor, who chaired the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting in Nairobi said that the inflation expectations remained well anchored within the target range, and that the economy was operating close to its potential.

“The MPC will continue to closely monitor developments in the global and domestic economy, including any perverse response to its previous decisions, and stands ready to take additional measures as necessary,” Njoroge said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

The monetary policy organ met to review the outcome of its previous policy decisions as well as the recent economic developments against a backdrop of domestic macroeconomic stability, increased optimism on the economic growth prospects, and increased global uncertainties.

Njoroge said there is need to be vigilant on the possible effects of the recent increases in fuel prices, the ongoing demonetization, and the increased uncertainties in the external environment.

The committee noted the gradual demonetization through the withdrawal of the older 1,000 shilling notes (10 U.S. dollars) and the close monitoring by CBK will ensure that the process is not disruptive to the economy.

The governor noted that month-on-month overall inflation remained relatively stable and within the target range in May and June 2019.

“The inflation rate stood at 5.7 percent in June compared to 5.5 percent in May. However, food inflation rose to 6.6 percent in June from 6.0 percent in May, reflecting increases in the prices of non-vegetable food crops particularly maize, due to uncertain supply,” Njoroge said.

According to the MPC, non-food-non-fuel inflation remained below 5 percent, indicative of muted demand pressures and spillover effects of the recent rise in fuel prices.

“Overall inflation is expected to remain within the target range in the near term largely due to expectations of lower food prices following improved weather conditions, and lower electricity prices with the reduced reliance on expensive power sources,” Njoroge observed.

The governor added that the economy remained strong in the first quarter of 2019, despite the effects of the delayed long rains on agricultural production.

The MPC noted that the leading indicators of economic activity point to stronger growth in the second quarter of 2019.

“Consequently, growth in 2019 is expected to remain strong, supported by agricultural production, strong growth of micro, small medium enterprises and the service sector, foreign direct investment, and a stable macroeconomic environment,” he added.

The apex bank said that the real GDP growth stood at 5.6 percent, reflecting a stronger than expected performance of agriculture and a resilient services sector, particularly information and communication, accommodation and restaurants, and transport and storage.

Njoroge added that the alignment of the 2019/20 financial year government budget to the Big 4 priority sectors is expected to boost economic activity in manufacturing, agriculture, construction and real estate, and health sectors.

Growth on right gear

Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) is likely to expand by at least 6 per cent this year, the country’s finance minister said, sticking to rosy government forecasts despite delayed rains that could hit agriculture, a mainstay of the economy.

The Kenyan economy grew 6.3 per cent in 2018, the statistics office said, helped by adequate rainfall, which spurred farming, which contributes about a third of output. Growth had slumped to 4.9 per cent the previous year in 2017.

“The Kenyan economy remains resilient. It is expected to perform better in 2019, growing by at least over 6 per cent,” the minister, Henry Rotich, said at an event to disclose last year’s economic performance.

The World Bank trimmed its forecast for Kenyan growth in 2019 to 5.7 per cent this month from an earlier forecast of 5.8 per cent because the main rainy season was delayed. Food shortages and water scarcity could worsen if the rainy season – from March to May — fails entirely, the country’s meteorological department said just days after the World Bank’s move.

“Uncertain rainfall may act as an inadvertent drag on growth,” said Razia Khan, the head of research for Africa at Standard Chartered in London.

The government, however, which expects the economy to grow by at least 6.3 per cent in 2019, according to President Uhuru Kenyatta in a speech earlier in the month of July, stuck to its optimism.

“Though the onset of the long rains have delayed, it is still early to predict on its impact on agricultural production,” Rotich said.

Last year’s recovery in growth was driven by agriculture, excluding fisheries and forestry, which expanded by 6.6 per cent, up from 1.8 per cent in 2017, said Zachary Mwangi, director general of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

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Kenya

Drought to Impair Kenya’s Economic Outlook in 2019

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In a recent release by the World Bank, the bank accounts that dry weather across much of Kenya was likely to curb the country’s economic growth this year, as it cuts its forecast to 5.7 per cent growth. The World Bank revealed the medium-term growth outlook was stable but recent threats of drought could drag down growth.

The bank said Kenya’s economy expanded by an estimated 5.8 per cent last year following its recovery from a slowdown the year before caused by another drought and election jitters. The latest forecast is down from the bank’s 5.8 per cent projection in October 2018. It is also lower than the government’s own forecast, which is 6.3 per cent, according to the central bank.

“Risks include drought conditions that could curtail agricultural output, especially if the country’s grain-growing counties are affected,” the bank said.

Growth in 2018 was driven by favorable harvests, a resilient services sector, positive investor confidence and a stable macroeconomic environment. Nonetheless, the demand side shows significant slack with growth driven primarily by private consumption while private sector investment remains subdued. So far in 2019, a strong pick-up in economic activity was underway for Q1 of 2019 as reflected by real growth in consumer spending and stronger investor sentiment. However, a delayed start to the long rain season (March – May 2019) could affect the planting season-resulting in poor harvests.

“The so-called long rains season from March till May hasn’t started in most parts of the country. Agriculture accounts for close to a third of Kenya’s annual economic output,” the bank said.

In addition, the below average short rains (October – December 2018) and the ensuing food shortages across several counties in the northern part of the country that has prompted emergency interventions, could impose unanticipated fiscal pressure constraining development spending. These developments have slowed the growth forecast for 2019.

“Delays in the long rain season and a growing need for emergency interventions to deal with food shortages is a reminder of the outstanding challenges in managing agricultural risks in Kenya,” said Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank Kenya Country Director. “Policy measures would be required to transform the agriculture sector through increasing productivity and enhancing resilience to agricultural risks to boost smallholder farmers’ income by improving access to competitive markets.”

USD 2.1 billion was recently raised in an oversubscribed dual-tranche Eurobond issue, which will be used to fund infrastructure projects and general budgetary expenses, along with partially or wholly refinancing a USD 750 million Eurobond due to mature in June.

Moreover, with revenue collection trailing below target, the president is seeking to enforce a 1.5% housing fund levy on the salaries of employees and employers alike, as part of efforts to build affordable housing under the Big Four Agenda. The policy has sparked uproar, however, with enforcement on hold until the Labor Court hears a case filed by the Consumers Federation of Kenya. 

“If the government fails to meet its revenue collection targets, the economy could face more risk from macroeconomic instability,” the bank said.

In the just ended 19th edition of the Kenya Economic Update (KEU): “Unbundling the Slack in Private Investment,” attributes the slack on the demand side of the economy to two factors: Insufficient credit growth to the private sector (which stands at 3.4% in February 2019), and inherent room for improvement in fiscal management. On private sector credit, the recommendation was fast-tracking solutions to factors that led to the imposition of the interest rate cap and building consensus for its eventual reform.

On the latter, ensuring prompt payments to firms that trade with the government could restore liquidity and stimulate private sector activities. Other crucial reforms outlined in the report are improved revenue mobilization and accelerated structural reforms that crowd in private sector participation in the Big 4 agenda.

“Several macroeconomic policy reforms, if pursued, could help rebuild resilience and speed-up the pace of poverty reduction” said Peter Chacha, World Bank Senior Economist and Lead Author of the KEU. “These include enhancing tax revenue mobilization to support government spending, reviving the potency of monetary policy, and recovery in growth of credit to the private sector”.

Agriculture remains a key driver of growth in Kenya and a major contributor to poverty reduction. The Special Focus section of the Kenya Economic Update highlighted a few of the many factors underlying low agriculture sector productivity and high vulnerability to climate shocks; and proposed policies that could help transform the sector to boost farmers’ income- thereby contributing to the overall poverty reduction in Kenya.

“There is a need to reform the current fertilizer subsidy program to ensure that it is efficient, transparent and well-targeted; invest in irrigation and water management infrastructure to build resilience in the sector; and leverage disruptive technologies to deliver agricultural services, including agro-weather and market information and advisory services” said Ladisy Chengula, World Bank Lead Agriculture Economist and author of the special section on Transforming Agriculture Sector Productivity and Linkages to Poverty Reduction.

Finally, to boost farmers’ incomes policy could seek to address post-harvest losses and marketing challenges by fast-tracking implementation of the national warehousing receipt system and commodities exchange, while scaling up agro-processing and value addition to increase returns on agricultural produce.

Externally, Kenya faces risks from global trade tensions, which could cut its exports and the funds sent home by Kenyans abroad.

“An unanticipated spike in oil prices and tighter global financial market conditions … could lead to a disorderly adjustment of capital outflows from Kenya,” it said.

Kenya’s current account deficit narrowed to 4.9 per cent of gross domestic product in 2018 from 6.3 per cent in 2017, according to the bank.

The deficit was financed by both government and capital inflows, increasing the central bank’s hard currency reserves.

“This continues to provide a comfortable buffer against external short-term shocks,” the bank said.

The World Bank, which is one of Kenya’s biggest development financiers, urged the government to curb tax exemptions to boost revenue and to inject a dose of realism when forecasting revenue collection. Critics have accused the government of overly optimistic revenue forecasts in recent years, to justify increased spending. The government has regularly failed to meet those targets. There was no immediate comment from the Ministry of finance.

“The government should also end caps on commercial lending rates imposed in 2016, which continue to compromise the effectiveness of monetary policy.

“There is need to repeal interest rate caps and restore the potency of monetary policy, which is essential in responding to shocks,” the World Bank said.

Overall, momentum should be sustained this year on the back of public infrastructure spending and despite the interest rate cap likely continuing to weigh on the domestic economy. The persistence of drought conditions, however, risks further curtailing agricultural activity, while global trade tensions threaten to disrupt exports and remittances inflows.

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