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Thursday, 31 March 2016

Zambia's mining challenges

Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) is planning to invest over US$1 billion as part of its construction of three new mine shafts. The company plans to make the investments between now and 2018, as part of what MCM dubs its “commitment to turning Mopani into a world-class mining operation by 2023”.

The announcement is a bit of positive news for the mining sector after losing over 10,000 jobs last year following the scaling down of mining activities. MCM lost around 4,300 mining jobs. Of course Zambia is not alone in these challenges. The SADC region has lost approximately 490,000 mining jobs.

The challenge for mining companies in Zambia is that as well as high production costs and low copper prices, the companies face the huge challenge of poor electricity supply. The result is that copper production will remain weak for the foreseeable future with negative impact on economic growth and tax revenues.

Monday, 28 March 2016

IMF - Zambia Watch (March 2016)

Editor's note: The latest IMF statement on Zambia confirms the gloomy state of the economy. The only good news at present is the stability of the exchange rate. How long that holds depends on fast the fiscal issues are addressed. It remains to be seen whether the increased willingness by the government to contemplate an IMF supported programme will be matched by real sacrifices. There doesn't appear to be political room for such a programme before  the elections (August 2016). But then again agreeing austerity measures that are unlikely to bite until after August ought to be a no-brainer. 
At the invitation of the authorities, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) team led by Tsidi Tsikata visited Zambia during March 9-18 to review recent macroeconomic developments and discuss with the authorities how best to address the current economic challenges facing the country.  At the end of the mission, Mr. Tsikata issued the following statement:

"The Zambian economy is under intense pressure. Lower copper prices, electricity shortages, and poor rainfall have dampened the pace of economic activity. Moreover, inflation has increased, expenditure pressures have risen, and financing conditions have tightened substantially. The mission estimated that economic growth declined to about 3 percent in 2015. Resolute action is needed as quickly as possible to restore macroeconomic stability and pave the way for a return to high sustained growth.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Zambia Monetary Policy Statement (February 2016)

Editor's note : The Bank of Zambia released its quarterly monetary policy statement in February. It noted the current fiscal and monetary challenges facing the economy. The statement and presentation are embedded below. 




Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A new constitution rises!

We have hesitated to comment on the recent passing of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill because the final document is not yet public. It awaits presidential ascent.

We do want to make it clear that this is a tremendous achievement for Zambia. The members of parliament are to be congratulated for achieving this impossible milestone.

Most importantly it is good to see that most all the clauses we consistently opposed in various incarnations of the draft constitution were removed. We especially note the following :

BILL OF RIGHTS - The NGOCC famously said, “The Bill of Rights is simply the core reason why a Constitution is needed”. That argument has never made any sense at all! A simple reading of the Bill of Rights section shows that many of them are impractical and unaffordable. There is also a legitimate question whether the constitution is a right place to have such rights!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Electricity goes down and up!

Government last week increased electricity tariffs for residential and non-mining commercial customers.  Prices to residential consumers have increased by 205%. Non-mining commercial prices have increased by 180%. Social services consumers such as schools, hospitals, orphanages and churches face a 190% increase.

The largest consumer of electricity, mining companies, are exempt from these changes. They do not get their power directly from Zesco. They get it from Copperbelt Energy Corp (CEC) which buys electricity from Zesco in bulk and in turn sells it to mining companies including the local units of Vedanta Resources and Glencore.  CEC already has agreements in place which ZESCO cannot change.

The Energy Regulation Board (ERB) claims the new tariffs are necessary to bring electricity pricing to "cost reflective” levels in order to attract investment.  It suggests that the increases would generate revenue that may facilitate an investment of up to US$3.7 billion in power generation projects. 

However, these figures look more like guesswork because no analysis or evidence has been offered by ERB to substantiate the claims. A point conceded by the IMF who recently noted, “the [increase] on its own, does not ensure full cost recovery in electricity provision”. So we are far from encouraging investment in the future.

The main reason for the latest huge increase is that the current electricity deficit has led to import of emergency power at a huge cost to government. A falling Kwacha, high inflation (19.5%) and high interest rates (15.5%) means high operational costs for ZESCO. Unless the prices rise the government's budget deficit will get worse.

What does this all mean for ordinary Zambians? The cost increase will not stop the constant load shedding. It is also not clear how much new investment will be generated in the long term because much of the increase is designed to ease operational costs on ZESCO not move us to cost reflective levels.  

What the increase will do in the short term is massively increase costs for small and medium businesses. What we now have is reduced supply of electricity at substantially greater cost. This will make life very difficult for farmers, traders, manufacturers and many social sectors. The result is higher unemployment and higher inflation. 

So not only will residential consumers face higher electricity prices they will have to meet these higher costs in the context of ever rising joblessness! 

As we recently noted, Zambia is facing "supply shocks" which should not be met by increased austerity measures of the kind being taken forward. It needs to focus on boosting supply not constraining it by increasing the cost of doing business, especially given the high prevailing interest rate. It fiscal response needs to focus on moving spending away from unproductive sectors to more productive areas. 

It has to tackle its fiscal deficit challenges in a way that does not turn Zambia into Venezuela. The latest move by ZESCO is another policy that has some merit but is in fact poorly timed and badly executed. 

It is poorly timed because though we certainly need to move toward increasing electricity prices in the future to cost reflective levels, in order to encourage long term investment in generation and transmission, now is not the time for reason explained above. 

It is badly executed because the new prices are still below cost recovery, and hence are unlikely to attract levels private sector investment. Most importantly, simply increasing prices is not the answer! 

Any move towards cost reflective prices must be put forward as part of an overall policy package that includes renewed obligations by GRZ to settle its own debts to ZESCO on time; undertake privatisation reforms for ZESCO that sees it only retaining monopoly over transmission (generation and distribution should be privatised); and wider public ownership of energy policy.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Pricing in dollars

The government is apparently considering reintroduction of suspended Statutory Instrument (SI) 33 of 2012 which prohibits quoting prices in dollars, according to the Ministry of Finance.

Times of Zambia’s James Muyanwa in a recent summary of President Lungu’s press conference reported that the President as saying the “dollarisation of prices is illegal and unjustifiable, hence it should be stopped with immediate effect”.