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Cablegate: South Africa Economic News Weekly Newsletter January 18,

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RUCPCIM/CIMS NTDB WASHDC
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TAGS: ECON EFIN EINV ETRD EMIN EPET ENRG BEXP KTDB SENV
PGOV, SF
SUBJECT: SOUTH AFRICA ECONOMIC NEWS WEEKLY NEWSLETTER JANUARY 18,
2008 ISSUE

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1. (U) Summary. This is Volume 8, issue 3 of U.S. Embassy
Pretoria's South Africa Economic News Weekly Newsletter.

Topics of this week's newsletter are:
- House Price Growth at Lowest Level in Seven Years
- Rate Hikes Hammer Retail Sales
- JSE Down
- Not All Lenders Comply With NCR
- First Greenfield IPP Targets Ground-breaking
- SA Business 'Still Optimistic'
- U.S. Second Largest Market for Overseas Tourists
End Summary.


--------------------------------------------- ----
House Price Growth at Lowest Level in Seven Years
--------------------------------------------- ----

2. (U) According to the latest Absa House Price Index, growth in
house prices in the middle-segment of the market (80m2 - 400m2)
slowed from 12.5% y/y in November to 11.2% y/y in December 2007,
which brought the average price of a house to almost R964,000 ($140,
000) at year-end. This was the lowest price growth since December
1999, when it was 9.3%. House prices increased on average by 22.5%
in 2005, 15.2% in 2006 and 14.5% in 2007. ABSA forecast house price
growth may drop to as low as 9% in 2008 after the downward trend in
price growth accelerated towards the end of 2007. Lower growth in
house prices is largely driven by the tightening of monetary policy
since mid-2006, the impact of the National Credit Act on the growth
in credit extension to consumers, as well as an expected slower pace
of economic expansion and lower growth in real household disposable
income during the course of the year. (ABSA Newsletter, January 15,
2008)

------------------------------
Rate Hikes Hammer Retail Sales
------------------------------

3. (U) According to Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) data, retail
trade sales growth slowed down from a low 1.8% y/y in October to
0.2% y/y in November 2007, its lowest pace in nearly five years.
Retail sales growth slowed for four quarters in a row, which is
worrying as this is the third-biggest sector of the economy, making
up 14% of gross domestic product (GDP). Analysts said higher
interest rates continue to curb consumer spending, the economy's
main growth engine. The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) hiked
interest rates by four percentage points in the past 18 months to
fight inflation, which still breached the upper end of its 3%-6%
target for eight months running. Economists pointed out that
although past interest rate increases have already had an impact on
spending, the full effect of some of the past interest rate
increases still need to filter through the economy. Consequently,
retail trade sales growth is likely to slow down further, with real
sales growth likely to move into negative territory in the coming
months. The latest retail sales data indicate a slowdown in
economic activity in the fourth quarter of 2007, a trend that is
likely to persist into 2008. However, the question for many
analysts is whether slower economic growth will outweigh the
inflation risks from high international oil prices and food prices,
second round inflationary pressures and the prospects of electricity
and other tariff increases when the SARB Monetary Policy Committee
meets on January 31. (Business Day, January, 17, 2007)
Qmeets on January 31. (Business Day, January, 17, 2007)

--------
JSE Down
--------

4. (U) The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) has fallen almost 16%
since October, with investors increasingly worried about economic
woes in the U.S. and other developed country markets. The JSE fell
2.4% on January 16 alone, following Asian and European markets
downward on news of record losses at Citigroup and poor retail sales
in the U.S. Bonds also weakened moderately and the Rand weakened
substantially, nudging close to R7/$1. "The U.S. is most certainly
in a recession and the news flow has been terrible," said Patrick
Mathidi, an investment advisor at RMB Asset Management. According
to John Cairns, a currency strategist at RMB, international
investors are withdrawing funds from emerging markets, dragging down
equities and the Rand. The decline in the JSE suggests that the

PRETORIA 00000119 002.2 OF 003


South African economy has not de-linked from the U.S. economy, as
some local analysts have argued. (Business Day, January 17, 2008)

-------------------------------
Not All Lenders Comply With NCR
-------------------------------

5. (U) The National Credit Regulator (NCR) has warned that lenders
risked being fined up to 10% of their annual turnover if they failed
to comply with the National Credit Act (NCA), which was promulgated
in 2007 to protect borrowers. The warning came amid reports that
some of South Africa's larger borrowers had failed to submit
quarterly reports in the manner prescribed by the NCA, much to the
annoyance of the NCR. One NCR official told journalists that some
of the reports received from "larger lenders" in the quarter ending
November 2007 had been returned for further work. "The quality of
submissions varies," she said. "In some cases, systems need to be
reviewed to ensure reporting requirements are met." (Business Day,
January 14, 2008)

--------------------------------------------
First Greenfield IPP Targets Ground-breaking
--------------------------------------------

6. (U) The South African Independent Power Producer (IPP) AES Khanya
consortium announced that its construction start for two open-cycle
gas-turbine power stations would be delayed to February due to
delays in closing financing. Department of Minerals and Energy
(DME) Chief Director: Electricity Ompi Aphane said the stations
would still come on line by the end of 2009. The two power plants
will together add 1,000 MW to the national grid and will be located
in KwaZulu-Natal and Coega in the Eastern Cape. DME estimated the
cost of the plants at $750 million, of which $120 million would be
from foreign direct investment. The AES Khanya project represents
the first IPP involved in a significant greenfield project. The
consortium is led by U.S.-based AES and incorporates local partners
Tiso Energy, Mbane Power and the Kurisani Trust. (Engineering News,
January 10, 2007)

-----------------------------
SA Business 'Still Optimistic'
-----------------------------

7. (U) According to a survey by global audit firm, Grant Thornton,
the majority of privately held businesses in South Africa are still
optimistic about the country. The survey researched the
expectations of privately held businesses in 34 countries. In South
Africa the research was conducted among 30 privately held businesses
that employ 100-400 staff. More than 75% of the businesses were
optimistic about South Africa, ranking it as the ninth-most
optimistic country of those surveyed. Also, South Africa was found
more optimistic than the global average of 42%. The most optimistic
province was Gauteng, at 85%, and the least optimistic province was
the Western Cape, at 67%. (Business Day, January 15, 2008)

--------------------------------------------- ---
U.S. Second Largest Market for Overseas Tourists
--------------------------------------------- ---

8. (U) The U.S. has overtaken Germany as South Africa's second
largest overseas tourism market. Statistics South Africa (StatsSA)
reported that the U.S. represented the largest overseas growth
Qreported that the U.S. represented the largest overseas growth
market for tourism in 2007, the sixth successive year of growth for
U.S. arrivals. A favorable exchange rate is expected to drive
continued growth of U.S. travelers. South Africa Tourism Chief
Operating Officer Didi Moyle stated that going forward, air
travelers would drive growth in South Africa's tourism sector. She
noted that growth in this market will depend on continuous and
seamless increases in air travel capacity. Moyle added that South
Africa is now looking to the markets of the future, such as India
and China. Stats SA reported that as of October 2007 arrivals from
India grew by 21% y/y and arrivals from China grew by 11% y/y after
a period of decline. Arrivals from Brazil and other South American
countries are also reported to be on the rise. Additionally, the
World Travel and Tourism Council said the growth potential of South
Africa's tourism market outstripped that of competing destinations
in Africa. The tourism sector has become one of the largest
contributors to South African gross domestic product (GDP). Foreign
arrivals contributed R222 billion ($32 billion) to South Africa's

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economy between 2003 and 2006. The South African tourism industry
grew by 13.9% y/y in 2006 compared to a global tourism growth of
only 4.5% y/y in 2006. Southern African Development Community
(SADC) countries represent the largest tourism market for South
Africa and generate more than 60% of South Africa's tourism revenue.
The growth in land arrivals from SADC countries is attributed to
increased integrated economic development of the region and much of
the travel is driven by wholesale and retail shopping trips. The
SAG's Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative (ASGISA) has
designated tourism as an "immediate high priority" sector. Business
leaders welcome this prioritization and note that this sector is
labor-intensive and has the potential to generate more jobs than
manufacturing. (Business Day, January 16, 2007)

BOST

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