The SA Reserve Bank. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
The SA Reserve Bank. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

The Covid-19 crisis, which has affected data collection from important state agencies such as Stats SA, is now also hobbling the SA Reserve Bank.

In a statement on Monday the central bank said the release of publications from its economic statistics department, including the release of its quarterly bulletin, will be delayed.

The data delays further complicate market participants’ and policymakers’ efforts to assess the effect the pandemic has had on the workings of the economy and policies being implemented as the economy reopens, economists say.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had an effect on the compilation of certain economic statistics due to the difficulties experienced in the collection of data from respondents,” the Bank said.

The macroeconomic statistics, published by the Bank in the Quarterly Bulletin, are compiled by integrating statistics released by Stats SA, the bank said. Due to the pandemic and the economic lockdown, Stats SA has been battling to collect data, delaying a host of statistical publications on everything from consumer inflation to mining and manufacturing data.

On April 17 Stats SA announced that GDP statistics for the first quarter of 2020 will be released on June 30 instead of the original date of June 2. “Given the importance of the GDP and other Stats SA statistics in the compilation of statistics published by the SA Reserve Bank, the June 2020 Quarterly Bulletin will now be released on July 16,” the Bank said.

The quarterly bulletin provides insight into financial markets, economic activity and data on government finances and national accounts.

Other statistical releases from the Bank to be affected include that on the current account of the balance of payments, which follows that on the GDP by two working days, and has now been changed from June 4 to July 2, the Bank said.

The release of external debt and international investment position statistics — which depend on the balance of payments data — will now be delayed to July 16 to coincide with the release of the quarterly bulletin, according to the Bank.

The data delays are understandable, said Stanlib chief economist Kevin Lings. SA’s data-collection performance holds up against emerging markets and in some cases even developed markets.  But they highlight SA’s lack of “fast, industry-based economic data” which could help to make a real-time assessment of the severity of the lockdown, he said.

“For policymakers this is critical to balance the questions of livelihoods vs life,” said Lings.

Speaking after last week’s meeting of the Bank’s monetary policy committee, Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago underscored the difficulty of forecasting economic variables in the present climate. “These are uncertain times and these uncertain times are actually making economic forecasting very, very tricky,” he said

The announcement follows comments from Kganyago on Sunday night, as reported by Bloomberg, that monetary policy measures taken by the Bank in recent months have not filtered through to the real economy yet. The bank has cut the benchmark repo rate to 3.75% — its lowest level since it was introduced in 1998

“We could say that it stimulates demand and then because it stimulates demand more goods are produced and so forth, but if you are providing this and the economy is locked down, you don’t see the effect of it,” he said.

The Bank has also relaxed accounting and capital rules for the banking sector in a bid to free up money for additional lending, as well as more than doubling its holdings of SA government debt, helping to reduce borrowing costs in the domestic bond market.

With Bloomberg