Worst are the latest manufacturing monthly figures, which show the sector declined by a sharp 3.6% in February compared to February 2016. This was well below what the market had expected and came despite the positive signals emanating from the Purchasing Managers’ index in the previous couple of months. With agriculture supposedly on the mend and global commodity prices rising, there had been hopes of a mild recovery in manufacturing, which grew by less than 1% in 2016 and, as Stanlib economist Kevin Lings notes, had its worst year since the financial crisis in 2015. Lings warns too that for the three months to end-February, manufacturing was down 0.8% on a quarter-on-quarter basis. As it is, the sector’s contribution to SA’s GDP has already plummeted to under 12%, half of what it was in 1994. And the erosion of our manufacturing base is clearly continuing at a disturbing rate, in part because it tends to become a vicious spiral: as toothpaste producers cut output or move their faci...

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