14/04/2024

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Five things to watch for in Budget 2024

Five things to watch for in Budget 2024

Watch Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana LIVE on Moneyweb as he tables the Budget 2024 at 2pm on Wednesday, 21 February.

South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana will table his annual budget on Wednesday in the lead up to elections that opinion polls show will deprive the ruling African National Congress of a parliamentary majority for the first time in three decades.

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Godongwana is simultaneously facing pressure from investors to stabilise public debt and rein in spending, and from the ANC to bolster access to welfare grants and health care as the party seeks to curry favour with voters before the election on May 29.

Here are the key things to watch out for:

1. Debt stabilisation 

The National Treasury’s three-year fiscal framework currently envisions the debt-to-gross-domestic ratio peaking at 77.7% in 2025-26. That target is looking increasingly at risk. It will take just one more shock for the ratio to rise above the precarious 80% level, according to Goldman Sachs International Economist Andrew Matheny, who foresees a revenue shortfall of as much as R45 billion ($2.4 billion). “The debt stabilisation that Treasury has consistently had in its projections over the last 15 years has proved to be pretty elusive,” he said.

2. New taxes

Godongwana unveiled plans in his November budget update to raise an additional R15 billion in revenue and is now due to pronounce on where the money will come from. Squeezing additional tax from already stretched consumers won’t be easy, while corporate taxes are under pressure as a commodity boom fades. One option would be to raise value-added tax, which is currently levied at a rate of 15%, but doing that would anger the ANC’s supporters and labour union allies.

3. Contingency reserves

The Treasury is considering using part of the roughly R500 billion in paper profits earned on its reserves to help replenish its coffers. The account is administered by the central bank and realizing any gains would require selling part or all of the underlying assets — predominately gold and foreign reserves — a move that could rattle investors — depending on how it’s done. If the account is tapped “it must be with strict and credible conditions, that make clear that the function of foreign reserves is to protect the country from international crises and maintain its credibility in the international financial system,” said Busisiwe Mavuso, chief executive officer of lobby group Business Leadership South Africa. “It is not a free money pot for government bailouts.”

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4. Transnet bailout

Transnet, which runs South Africa’s freight rail system and main ports, has been dogged by operational and financial problems that have curbed exports and hamstrung the economy. Last year, Godongwana announced that the company would get R47 billion in debt guarantees that would help tide it over until the budget. In January, the minister said that the Treasury was keeping a close eye on Transnet, but stopped short of committing to providing it with additional assistance. The government may view Transnet as too big to fail, and inject further funding in phases over the next two fiscal years, said Nedbank Senior Economist Isaac Matshego. He estimates that about R50 billion could be forthcoming. Goldman’s Matheny doesn’t foresee this budget making provision for Transnet, but that a relief package may be made available in the coming years.

5. Welfare grants

The government first introduced a temporary R350 monthly welfare grant to cushion the unemployed against the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and provision has been made for it to run until the end of March next year. While the ANC favours making the stipend permanent, the National Treasury has said it’s unaffordable unless alternative revenue sources are found. President Cyril Ramaphosa has said there’s a case to be made for the grant to be retained, even within South Africa’s fiscal constraints. “It’s going to be hard to take it away politically,” Matheny said. “You’re certainly not going to take it away, politically, before an election.”

© 2024 Bloomberg