Thursday, 25 October 2012

South Africa's consumer spending losing steam

The impact of the strike on retail sales growth will be seen in September, says Schüssler. The BankservAfrica disposable salary index (BDSI) for September is not optimistic. BankservAfrica, SA's largest automated bank payments clearing house, processes almost half of all salary payments.

The number of salary payments processed by BankservAfrica in September was down about 47000 (4,5%) on August's figure. It was the first fall since the state worker strike in 2010. The total amount of money paid out in September fell by nearly 3%. "The continuing nature of the strike makes it likely that overall payouts will decline in October as well," says Schüssler.

The knock-on effect of the mining strike could be significant, says Nedbank Capital retail analyst Syd Vianello. "There is a big industry supplying mines. Many companies in the sector have closed factories and put staff on unpaid leave." negative is that many mines closed by the strike will not reopen.

"They are now just uneconomic," he says.

Worse still, Adcorp labour economist Loane Sharp predicts mine-sector employment will shrink by 200000 over the next 10 years. He expects total formal employment numbers in SA to remain flat over that period.

In government's 2013/2014 fiscal year it aims to extract R326bn in personal income tax, R40bn (14,5%) more than in 2012/2013.

In 2014/2015 it will be looking to extract a further R49bn (15%) from income taxpayers.

Commentators like Rhodes University tax professor Matthew Lester and Edward Nathan Sonnenberg tax executive Ernie Lai King believe an increase in personal tax rates is almost unavoidable.
Evan Walker, a fund manager at 36One Asset Management, believes the days of high HEPS growth from retailers are fading fast. "At best, growth will be in the low double digits," says Walker. "Retail shares are expensive."

This leaves SA retailers' share prices at the mercy of foreign shareholders. The impact foreign selling can have was shown in a 16% fall in Mr Price's share price in three days in October, sparked by a sharp fall in the rand. "It shows what can happen when foreigners begin selling," says Biccard.

Other retail shares also fell victim to foreign selling. One was The Foschini Group, whose share price slid almost 20% during August and September. During the sell-off, the foreign holding in Foschini fell from 41,5% to 40,5%, says Ronnie Stein, the retailer's financial director.

"By emerging market standards, SA's GDP growth prospects are poor at 2%-2,5%," says Vianello. "This is no better than the US's GDP growth." US retailers also offer better value than SA retailers, he adds. "When this sinks in, I think it will have a big negative impact [on SA retail shares]."

How long the retail party will continue, no-one can say with certainty. But there seems little doubt a big dose of caution is called for when eyeing out this sector.

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