South Africa’s economy fell into a recession for the first time since 2009 after it contracted for a second straight quarter in the first three months of the year .
Gross domestic product receded an annualized 0.7 percent in the first quarter from a contraction of 0.3 percent in the previous three months, Statistics South Africa said in a report released in the capital, Pretoria.
While rains are helping Africa’s most-industrialized economy recover from a 2015 drought that was the worst since records started more than a century earlier, political uncertainty has hampered implementing reforms aimed at boosting growth.
Worse was to come when President Jacob Zuma changed his cabinet and fired Pravin Gordhan as finance minister in March, a move that saw the nation lose its investment-grade status with two ratings companies for the first time in 17 years.
All industries except agriculture and mining contracted in the quarter, the statistics office said. The finance, real estate and business services industry shrank 1.2 percent, the first decline since at least the first quarter of 2013.
The rand lost 1.4 percent to 12.8920 per dollar by 12:22 p.m. Yields on rand-denominated government bonds due December 2026 rose 6 basis points to 8.49 percent, the first increase in five days. The six-member banks index extended declines after the release, dropping 1.7 percent in Johannesburg.
S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings Ltd. affirmed South Africa’s debt at the highest non-investment grade last week, with both companies saying policy uncertainty, political turmoil and slow economic growth pose a risk to fiscal consolidation. Moody’s Investors Service, which rates the nation at two levels above junk, has the nation on review for a downgrade.
“The rating agencies, even if they have already done their assessments, will no doubt be downgrading their GDP outlook off the basis of these numbers,” said Gina Schoeman, an economist at Citigroup Inc. in Johannesburg.
South Africa’s growth slowed to 0.3 percent last year, the lowest rate since 2009, after low commodity prices, the effects of the prior year’s drought and weak demand for locally made goods weighed on output. Unemployment rose to a 14-year high in the first quarter. The business confidence index remains near the lowest level in more than two decades.
“The first quarter ended with the cabinet reshuffle and the second quarter started with the credit-rating downgrades, so in terms of consumer and business sentiment I can’t see an improvement,” said Christie Viljoen, an economist at KPMG LLP in Cape Town. “I’m not excited about a big turnaround in the GDP numbers for the second quarter, there’s just no reason to believe that at this stage.”
The central bank on May 25 reduced its forecast for growth this year to 1 percent from 1.2 percent, and trimmed the outlook for 2018 to 1.5 percent from 1.7 percent because of the anticipated impact of the downgrades.