BUSINESS MAVERICK

Delayed June mining data may have skewed South Africa’s second-quarter GDP figures

By Ed Stoddard 14 September 2021

(Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

There was a rare double whammy of mining data in one go on Tuesday after the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) failed to deliver the June numbers on time for their scheduled August release because of ‘technical challenges’. Those challenges also mean that the June numbers estimated in last week’s GDP data may have been overstated.

Ed Stoddard

The delayed June data show that mining production for the month rose 19.1% on a year-on-year basis. Annual growth has been slowing since it soared over 117% in April owing to the fact that most mines stopped producing in April last year, the hardest full lockdown month of the pandemic. The ebb in annual growth since is partly explained by the sector rebooting ahead of most industries last year, so the base effects for comparison have not been rock bottom. 

The DMRE and its transparent capacity challenges have been the subject of much criticism of late, but in the industry’s eyes, last year’s fast restart to the shafts was a gold star for Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.

The imprint also showed that the tardiness in the June data – delivered to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) the weekend before last Tuesday’s Q2 gross domestic product (GDP) figures were released – meant the numbers were a very rough estimate. This is because Stats SA generally needs more lead time to crunch the numbers. 

The GDP numbers showed an estimated 1.2% increase in the size of the economy in Q2, with mining output rising 1.9%. Stats SA said the sector contributed 0.1 percentage point to GDP growth. 

But Tuesday’s figures showed that for the three months to the end of June, mining output had grown only 0.6%.

“There was a delay in releasing the June numbers ahead of the preliminary Q2 GDP print, but today’s figures show that seasonally adjusted mining production was up 0.6% q/q, reflecting that mining indeed contributed positively to GDP, but there is downside risk to the 1.9% q/q currently estimated,” FNB economist Koketso Mano said in a note on the data. 

Is this material to the GDP figure? Mike Schussler of Economists.co.za told Business Maverick he reckoned it could shave almost 0.1 percentage point off the GDP number, which, it must be said, can be subject to subsequent revision. The mining data is also periodically revised.

In July, production growth in the mining sector slowed to 10.3%. On a month-on-month and seasonally adjusted basis, it rose 4.1% after slipping 1.6% in June. At first glance, this suggests that the impact of the wave of looting in July did not knock the sector as hard as others. Seasonally adjusted manufacturing production, for example, decreased 8.0% in July compared with June.

And annual growth in mining sales at current prices remains off the charts, thanks to a commodities boom linked to a rebounding global economy. In the year to June, sales soared 94%, slowing to a still brisk growth rate of 32.6% in July. 

But the monthly figures cast things in a different light. Compared with June, mining sales declined 11.7% in July – billions of rands – after edging up 0.6% in June. 

A couple of factors probably explain the drop in July sales. July’s eruption of social unrest and the Transnet cyberattack disrupted the transport networks that enable the export of minerals and metals.  

Commodity prices have also cooled somewhat, even if they remain relatively hot. Rhodium was fetching almost $30,000 an ounce in March but in July that had almost halved at one point to $17,500, according to Johnson Matthey data. Gold prices also dipped significantly in July. South Africa’s current account and trade surpluses reached records in the second quarter, mostly on the back of commodity prices, and these peaks may not be matched this quarter. 

Speaking of this quarter, the economy is widely expected to be in contraction mode currently, though mining production at least remains a positive. DM/BM

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