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Latest GDP figures have laid bare the grim reality of COVID-19’s economic effects, revealing an unprecedented 51% decline in economic activity in the second quarter of this year (quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted and annualised).
The market expected the economy to shrink by 3.8% over the first quarter so the -2.0% print for Q1 2020 GDP (quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted and annualised) might be slightly better than anticipated, but it almost means nothing. This performance takes us only up to the end of March so it includes less than five working days of the lockdown.
As the coronavirus sweeps its way around the globe, the trends established in most countries in terms of taming its spread after lockdown appears similar to that set in China. While it might take somewhat longer for some of those countries that started their control measures later, the outlook seems positive and the trend is definitely moving in the right direction.
Despite various geopolitical and economic challenges at the beginning of 2019, markets managed to deliver very strong returns for the year. And investors will be relieved to see that equity markets look set to start 2020 on a slightly better footing, as many of these uncertainties have been addressed to some extent over 2019.
With GDP up 3.1% in the second quarter of 2019 (seasonally adjusted, annualised) and 0.9% for the year to June 2019, the markets have responded positively. The rand appreciated by some 10 cents on publication of the data and bonds yields declined by about 10 basis points.
With the elections now largely behind us, investors’ focus will shift to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ability and political will in addressing issues of concern, namely: the composition of cabinet to be announced on the 28th of May, transforming the economy with the promised policy reform and resolving the problem that Eskom poses to South Africa.
The Q4 2018 GDP growth numbers are encouraging in light of the tough environment that we have just emerged from. Given that we came out of a technical recession in 2018, the turnaround to see positive growth for the full year is heartening. And while it may still not be enough to address many of our structural issues, the positive signs are likely to keep the rating agencies at bay.
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