Monday, May 29, 2023

Agbiz/IDC Agribusiness Confidence Index deteriorates

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The Agbiz/Industrial Development Corporation of SA’s (IDC) Agribusiness Confidence Index (ACI) deteriorated further by seven points to 53 in the third quarter (Q3), following a two-point decline in Q2 of 2022. Higher input costs, friction in some export markets, persistent animal disease challenges, rising interest rates, intensified geopolitical risks which disrupted supply chains and ongoing weaknesses in municipal service delivery and network industries remained the key factors that survey respondents cited as the key concerns.

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Still, a level of the ACI above the neutral 50-point mark implies that agribusinesses remain cautiously optimistic about operating conditions in South Africa (SA). Therefore, results for Q3 of 2022 still reflect broadly favourable agricultural conditions, albeit not as strong as the previous seven quarters. This survey was conducted in the first two weeks of September 2022 and covered agribusinesses operating in all agricultural subsectors across SA.

Figure 1: Agbiz/IDC ACI1.

1 The Agbiz/IDC ACI reflects the perceptions of at least 25 agribusiness decision-makers on the ten most important aspects influencing a business in the agricultural sector (i.e., turnover, net operating income, market share, employment, capital investment, export volumes, economic growth, general agricultural conditions, debtor provision for bad debt and financing cost).

Agribusiness executives, policymakers and economists use it to understand the perceptions of the agribusiness sector and also serves as a leading indicator of the value of the agricultural output while providing a basis for agribusinesses to support their business decisions.

Discussion of the subindices

The ACI comprises ten subindices, and seven declined in Q3. This is excluding the debtor provision for bad debt and financing costs subindices, which are interpreted differently from other subindices.

The turnover subindex fell by 14 points to 79 in Q3 of 2022. This current level, however, is well above the long-term average, signalling that many producers and agribusinesses continue to benefit from strong crop prices. Along with the turnover, the net operating income subindex fell by 15 points to 63.

The employment subindex declined by four points to 61. This points to a potential slowdown in employment in the fields as Q3 each year is a quiet period since harvests would typically have been finalised ahead of the start of the 2022/23 production season in Q4.

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After a mild uptick in the second quarter, the capital investments subindex retracted by two points in Q3 to 71. Still, the current levels are above the long-term trends and are reflective of the vibrant environment where tractor and combine harvester sales have remained robust since the beginning of the year. Farmers are increasing investments in movable assets following two agricultural seasons of large harvest and higher crop prices, specifically for grains and oilseeds.

The subindex measuring the volume of exports sentiment moderated by just one point from Q2 to 70. Given the market access challenges, the SA citrus industry experienced in the European Union (EU), the temporary ban of wool exports to China, which has since been resolved, and the temporary stoppage of livestock product exports to some markets because of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, and the expected decline in summer crop and wine grape harvests, a level of 70 still indicates robust export conditions.

The general economic conditions subindex fell by 19 points to 24. These results mirror the current environment of uncertainty triggered by recent geopolitical tension, inflation concerns, rising interest rates, a general slowdown in the global economy, and more domestic issues such as the persistent load shedding and inefficiencies in the network industries, among other factors.

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The general agricultural conditions subindex fell by 11 points from Q2 to 42, which is the lowest level since the last quarter of 2019. The agribusinesses operating in grains, finance and agrochemicals were among the respondents that expressed a downbeat view of agricultural conditions. However, this could change in coming quarters as the weather outlook points to prospects of a weak La Niña, which could bring moderate rain in the 2022/23 summer season.

Unlike the above seven subindices, the market share of the agribusiness’ subindex lifted by two points from Q2 to 74. This optimism stemmed from most of the respondents, with a few who maintained an unchanged view from the previous quarter.

The subindices of the debtor provision for bad debt and financing costs are interpreted differently from the abovementioned indices. A decline is viewed as a favourable development, while an uptick signals growing financial strain. In Q3, the subindex for debtor provision for bad debt fell by three points to 39. However, the financing costs subindex increased by seven points to 11 in Q3. This is still low, but the increase is consistent with the current environment of rising interest rates.

Concluding remarks

The Agbiz/IDC ACI’s Q3 results present a picture of a sector that remains on a sound footing, but one that is also confronted with a range of challenges. “This moderation in sentiment suggests that 2022 could show contraction in SA’s agricultural gross-value added. Still, this does not mean the sector is in terrible shape.

“The base in 2021 is high and we see slightly lower harvests in some field crops this year,” says Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agbiz. “Looking ahead, the prospects of a weak La Niña provide a good foundation for an excellent rainy season.”

This is notwithstanding the lingering challenges of higher prices of critical farm inputs such as fertiliser, agrochemicals, and fuel, which will put pressure on producers’ and agribusinesses’ finances when the summer crop season starts in October.

“For the long-term growth of this sector, the need to improve the efficiency of ports, electricity supply and water, quality of roads, curbing crime that devastates the rail network, and improving biosecurity should be prioritised by both government and the private sector,” adds Sihlobo. – Press release, Agbiz

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