By Rob Wilkie, CFO Sage South Africa

Rob Wilkie

Rob Wilkie

Whilst last year’s budget was all about infrastructure expansion investment, this year the emphasis is in keeping the budget deficit in check.

Mr Gordhan announced in his 2013 budget speech that tax collections would be R16.9 billion less than the estimate made in the 2012 budget. This was largely as a result of weaker economic growth, labour unrest and lower commodity prices. Economic growth for 2012 is expected to be sluggish at 2.7% with mining strikes and stoppages costing the economy approximately R15.3 billion.

As a consequence, the budget deficit increased to 5.2% of GDP. In other words, government spending exceeded tax revenue collected by R185 billion. In business terms, government made an operating loss in 2012.

In order to reduce the deficit (or rate of cash burn) Gordhan said that he would not increase taxes or impose drastic austerity measures, but would instead reduce the rate at which public spend was escalating. He said he would do this by utilising government’s contingency reserve (R23.5 billion); reprioritising expenditure to strategically important initiatives (R52 billion); and reducing financial mismanagement and corrupt expenditure (6% of GDP).  If successful, the growth in government spending would be reduced to 2.3% in real terms (7.8% including the effects of inflation) and the budget deficit brought back to 3.1% over 3 years. Additional borrowings of R497 billion would be required to fund the deficit, increasing government debt to R1,7 trillion or 40% of GDP. Gordhan said that he was comfortable with this level of debt and SA’s ability to meet its debt service commitments.

If government were a business the budget would read as follows:

  • Business SA has made a loss equivalent to 5.2% of its turnover.
  • It does not want to increase its prices as existing customers may stop buying and new customer acquisitions decline.
  • To return to profitability (or reduce its loss) Business SA therefore has to reduce its cost base or at least slow its cost growth.
  • It will do this by a combination of resource reallocation to its priority initiatives and reduction of inefficiencies and wasteful expenditure.
  • Until such time as it is able to return to profitability Business SA will utilise its cash resources and credit lines to fund its losses.

It is a balancing act.  Do you cut deep; stop the cash burn but risk sustainability and preparedness for the next cyclical upturn? Or do you rather focus on efficiency gains and investment priorities, live with losses and more debt, but enhance sustainability and competitive edge?

Government has chosen the later, both for socio economic and structural reasons, but also because it has the capacity to borrow in order to sustain deficits. I believe they have got the balance right in this budget. It is now up to government to show the political will and commitment necessary to implement it.