SA’s economic recession deepens in first quarter as mining plummets

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Mfuneko Toyana
PRETORIA – South Africa’s recession deepened in the first quarter of 2020, with official data on Tuesday showing that gross domestic product contracted 2% from the previous three months, led by declines in mining and manufacturing.

The economy was already frail before the coronavirus pandemic hit South Africa in March, with January-March being the third consecutive quarter of contraction and following a 1.4% decline in GDP in October-December.

Tuesday’s data nevertheless beat analysts’ expectations for a contraction of 3.8% in the first quarter.

“While this was nowhere near as bad as the market had feared, there is little in the data to be upbeat about,” said Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered.

“The year/year decline was modest, with the return of growth in agriculture providing some support. But the read-across to other sectors, and the expenditure breakdown of GDP, provides plenty of reason to be concerned.”

Statistics South Africa said mining contracted by 21.5% in January-March, while manufacturing was down 8.5%.

Compared to the same period a year ago, GDP shrank 0.1% in the first quarter after a 0.5% decline in Q4 2019.

A strict nationwide lockdown from late March has been partially eased to allow key sectors like mining, manufacturing and retail to resume operations, but the outlook remains gloomy.

The Treasury sees GDP contracting by 7.2% this year.

First-quarter spending in the economy shrank 2.3% compared with October-December, Stats SA said. Then, it had contracted 1.2% from the prior quarter.

While household expenditure grew 0.7% and government expenditure was up 1.1% in the quarter, gross fixed capital formation shrunk by 20.5%.

“Tentative green shoots of consumer recovery will have been completely overridden by the COVID crisis, and rise in joblessness since then,” Khan said.

“When an economy’s starting point — even prior to the COVID lockdown — is an unemployment rate that is over 30%, it is difficult to imagine what further deterioration looks like.”

Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Catherine Evans

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