The latest Experian Business Debt Index (BDI) has revealed that the financial health of South African businesses has fallen to its lowest point since the financial crisis in 2009. During Q2, the BDI fell to 0.127, compared to 0.237 in the first quarter.
For a number of years now, the financial health of businesses has been stable and improving. This is partly due to many businesses recognising the difficult economic circumstances following the global financial crisis and refraining from aggressive capital investment beyond what was absolutely necessary. This had helped ensure stability in balance sheets.
The latest BDI, however, has revealed that the steady overall deterioration of the domestic and international growth environments has impacted the financial health of businesses.
This relative deterioration has gone hand-in-hand with a gradual increase in the number of outstanding debtor days from the 43.6 days for October 2013 to 51.4 days in May 2015. Although June witnessed a countervailing reduction, to 49.2 days, the average number of outstanding debtor days in the second quarter of 2015, of 50.4, was the highest in the past two years.
Similarly, the share of debts outstanding at 30 to 60 days (as a percentage of those outstanding for less than 30 days) rose to 19.7% in the second quarter, up from 16.9% in the first quarter. The number of debts outstanding for more than 90 days relative to those outstanding for less than 60 days increased to 11.6% in the second quarter of 2015, from 11.5% in the first quarter.
The overall macroeconomic environment also deteriorated in the second quarter. Global and domestic economic growth rates declined noticeably in the second quarter, with the domestic economy dipping to 1.6% on a year-on-year basis, from 2.0% in the first quarter.
The tightness of the economic environment was also reflected in the widening disparity between consumer price inflation (CPI) and producer price inflation (PPI). PPI remained considerably lower than CPI, indicating the extent of the pressure on pricing power within weak demand conditions in the economy.
Although there were marginal improvements in some of the sectors, the majority remained in negative territory, recording deteriorating financial health.
The agricultural sector saw a faster deterioration in financial conditions in Q2, due to the intensification of current drought conditions. This had a knock-on effect to the wholesale, retail, accommodation and restaurants sectors. This may have been driven by the sharp falloff in foreign tourism associated with the Ebola scare and the installation of tighter visa requirements. Increased load-shedding and reduced demand for electricity saw this sector also recording a deterioration.
The deteriorating trend of the BDI is expected to continue during the second half of this financial year. Slower Chinese economic growth is impacting the demand for raw materials which has resulted in lower commodity prices, the effects of which are likely to reverberate through the manufacturing sector, and to a lesser extent other sectors of the economy.