Farming helps grow South African economy out of recession

PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa emerged from a recession in the second quarter as agriculture helped the economy expand more than expected, Statistics South Africa said on Tuesday, strengthening the rand and bonds.

Africa’s most industrialised economy expanded 2.5 percent in the three-months to the end of June after contracting by 0.6 percent in the first quarter and by 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2016.

The rand firmed against the dollar in response to the data, and was trading 0.23 percent firmer at 12.9500/dollar as of 1113 GMT. Government bonds also firmed, with the benchmark paper down 1.5 basis points to 8.5 percent.

President Jacob Zuma last month said that 2017 growth would be below 0.5 percent, down from a forecast of 1.3 percent in February, after the poor first quarter numbers.

Low growth has piled pressure on Zuma, who has been beset by the fallout from credit downgrades and corruption scandals that have further dented investor confidence.

Helping the recovery was growth in agriculture, with the sector expanding 33.6 percent as it recovers from last year’s drought. The other key sectors of mining, manufacturing and trade also registered growth.

Gross domestic product rose 1.1 percent on an unadjusted year-on-year basis in the second quarter, compared with 1.0 percent expansion in the previous three months, the agency said.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a quarter-on-quarter GDP expansion of 2.1 percent and a year-on-year expansion of 0.4 percent.

“The growth rate is not what planners and those in decision making positions would have wanted. Although its not negative, it is not at the level (of growth) that was planned for,” said Statistician-General Pali Lehohla.

Since emerging from the 2009 recession, South African growth has fallen short of the government’s 5 percent target that economists say is needed to curb unemployment.

“A restoration of investor confidence remains important for a sustained recovery. For now, that is still elusive,” said Standard Chartered Bank’s Chief Africa Economist Razia Khan.

“The Q2 GDP data demonstrates some momentum in the economy, but this is unlikely to be sufficient to discourage the (central bank) from further easing in support of the economic recovery.”

The South African Reserve Bank cut its repo rate by 25 basis points to 6.75 percent in July for the first time in five years in order to support the economy.