Business sentiment, as measured by the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) business confidence index, took a positive turn in September.

The September BCI level of 92.4 is the highest since June 2019, the chamber said. It also came in above market expectations of 89.

The month-on-month increase, which was up from 89.1 in August, was similar to the recovery seen in January 2018, after the election of Cyril Ramaphosa to the ANC presidency, the chamber said, albeit from a lower level.

Seven sub-indices of the BCI improved, and three remained unchanged between September and August 2019, according to the chamber. Positive monthly moves came from increased merchandise export volumes, a stronger rand exchange rate weighted against major trading and investment currencies, increased new vehicle sales, and an increase in the real value of building plans passed.

On an annual basis, however, the index was still 0.9 points down from September 2018. This was mainly due to among others reasons, a marginal reduction in merchandise export volumes, a lower all share price index on the JSE, and “below the trend” manufacturing output.  

The uptick in confidence is a chance “to implement proposals for economic restructuring and with the upcoming medium-term budget, to set the tone for an economic turnaround” the chamber said.

SA has seen a series of subdued high-frequency data releases recently that underscore a weak economy. These include last week’s Absa purchasing managers’ index (PMI), which reached lows last seen during the global financial crisis.

The expected deterioration in the country’s fiscal metrics ahead of the medium-term budget policy statement, as well as global uncertainty over trade tensions between the US and China are also weighing on sentiment.

Nevertheless the chamber said its results could point to “a possible about-turn for the business climate” when examined alongside certain other macroeconomic developments. These included inflation that is within the Reserve Bank’s target range, and well contained money supply and private-sector credit.

Other data released on Wednesday however, pointed to an environment that remains constrained.

The BankservAfrica Economic Transaction Index (BETI), which measures transactions across a number of sectors, grew a modest 0.5% year on year in September.

Month-on-month, however, the BETI recorded a decline in the real value of transactions of 1.6% between September and August. On a quarterly basis, the index fell 2.2%.

The drop is an indication that the economy may have contracted, said Mike Schussler, chief economist at economists.co.za, which helped to develop the BETI.


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