South Africa retail

South Africa, the African continent’s largest economy, had better take note. West Africa, an area that includes Nigeria, has for the third time in three years notched up more private equity (PE) deals than Southern Africa.

West Africa had the highest reported value of deals ($545m) during 2013, surpassing Southern Africa ($491m) and Eastern Africa ($163m), according to the 2014 Deloitte’s East Africa Private Equity Confidence Survey, published this month. 

Source: StatsSA

After the odd glimmer of hope (in macro data terms), South Africa is back on a downer. Retail sales for September came in on Wednesday well below analyst consensus, at a weak 0.2 per cent year on year, and a miserable contraction of 0.7 per cent month on month. The year on year figure hasn’t been this low since late 2009.

The consensus was for 2.5 per cent growth year on year. What went wrong? 

After the gloomiest consumer confidence reading in a decade last month, South African retail sales for August looked rather good.

Year on year, the data came in at 3.0 per cent increase, beating estimates of a 1.2 per cent rise. But don’t get carried away. 

There may be troubles in mining and elsewhere, but South Africans are still shopping. Retail sales surprised analysts on Wednesday, surging 6.2 per cent year on year in May.

That’s the highest since August 2012, and comfortably beat expectations of 2.4 per cent. What’s up? 

A bit more positive economic data from South Africa, after a mixed bag on manufacturing and mining last week.

Retail sales in February rose 3.8 per cent year on year, up from January’s revised 2.2 per cent increase – beating analysts’ expectations. And South Africa’s statistics bureau said inflation held steady at 5.9 per cent in the year to March – just a whisker below the top end of the government’s 3 to 6 per cent target range. 

South Africa’s retail sales slowed in January, according to data released on Wednesday, as consumers reacted to the growing gloom over the economy.

As the rand fell to a new four-year low against the dollar on Wednesday of 9.2, the South Africa Reserve Bank – due to hold its second policy meeting of the year next week – could face pressure for an interest rate cut. The reserve bank cut rates by 50 basis points last July at the height of the 2012 eurozone crisis. 

South Africa just can’t quite shake off the bad times. After a torrid 2012 of strikes and unrest, there has been a clutch of economic data that show mild improvement which then revert back down.

On Wednesday, it was the turn of the PMI – an index of manufacturing sentiment. Having had a better showing in November, reaching 49.5 (seasonally adjusted) – just shy of the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction – the December figure has come in at 47.4, back towards the bad days of October. Retail sales and mining production tell a similar story. 

The South African retail group Shoprite released half year sales figures on Monday showing growth of 13.8 per cent to R46.7bn ($5.3bn) during the six months to the end of December.

For supermarket groups in places like the UK, these are figures to die for – but for Shoprite, in its fast growing African markets, they come as something of a disappointment. Shares in the retailer had dropped by almost 6 per cent per cent on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange as of 15.00 GMT. 

Several key figures are out for South Africa in October on Tuesday and they paint a mixed picture. After several iffy bits of recent economic news, retail sales slowed but were still positive, manufacturing was up a bit – but mining was hit hard again, with gold production down a whopping 45 per cent year on year.

Gold miners stocks fell in response, with Gold Fields down 1.63 per cent and AngloGold Ashanti down 1.3 per cent on Tuesday, although Harmony was up just over 1 per cent. 

British fashion retailer Topshop has opened its first African store in Johannesburg’s up-market Sandton City mall – a vote of confidence both in South African consumer spending and also the country as a way in to the rest of the continent. 

South Africa once attracted economic migrants from across the continent. The tables are now turning. Growth in South Africa is 2.5 per cent, half that in sub-Saharan Africa and South African companies are now crossing borders to cash in on this growth, according to a Special Report from the FT

Hint, hint: the markets gave South Africa’s monetary policy committee a rather strong signal on Wednesday as three-year bond yields fell to a record low. The reason? Retail sales grew in April at the slowest pace for two years, at just 1 per cent year-on-year.

Yields on South Africa’s debt due in 2015 fell six basis points to 6.18 per cent, the lowest closing figure on record according to Bloomberg. Yields on the 1, 2 and 10-year benchmark bonds all fell too, as did 3-month forward rates. 

By Rob Minto and Pan Kwan Yuk

What to do when your domestic market is saturated and slow? Go overseas, of course. The question is when and how difficult a market to pick. For clothes retailer Gap, the answers seem to be: ‘now’ and ‘any’.

Gap is opening two stores in South Africa on Tuesday and Wednesday with wholesale partner Stuttafords in Johannesburg and Cape Town. And perhaps more adventurously, it plans to open in Lebanon, Georgia and Azerbaijan this year.