Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Load shedding saps confidence among manufacturers in South Africa

Manufacturing is one of the sectors in the economy that suffers the most due to rolling blackouts it needs power to operate.

There is still no confidence among manufacturers with load shedding weighing on sentiment.

The confidence level for the manufacturing sector in the second quarter was unchanged at 17 since the previous quarter, lower than the trough of 20 reached during the global financial crisis in 2009.

The Absa Manufacturing Survey for the second quarter shows confidence levels in the manufacturing sector remain near the low points reached during previous business cycles.

ALSO READ: Business confidence down again thanks to rolling blackouts

The quarterly survey covers approximately 700 businesspeople in the manufacturing sector and was conducted by the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) at Stellenbosch University between 10 and 30 May 2023. The confidence index ranges between 0 and 100, with 0 reflecting an extreme lack of confidence and 100 extreme confidence, where all participants are satisfied with current business conditions. 

Although sentiment improved significantly since the record low of 5 points recorded during the pandemic, historical data shows that confidence has only been at these levels a handful of times.

Fallout of electricity supply disruptions

“Electricity supply disruptions not only directly weigh on production and capacity and hurt profitability due to the costs associated with load shedding mitigation measures, such as diesel generators, but also negatively affects sentiment,” Justin Schmidt, head of manufacturing sector at Absa Relationship Banking, says.

“With confidence levels remaining at the same very low levels seen in the first quarter, the effects of load shedding are visible across manufacturing subsectors.” 

He says as the tough economic environment continues to constrain household disposable income, manufacturers are not only faced with a reduction in sales volumes but also see a slowing of price inflation regarding selling prices in both the local and international markets.

ALSO READ: Economic activity in SA is stagnating

Compared to the first quarter, domestic sales dropped by 22 points and the domestic selling price per production unit by 19 points, while export sales showed a 15-point decline and export selling price per production unit dropped by 14 points.

Schmidt says further evidence of the impact of load shedding is visible on the lower levels of production and the increased level of capacity underutilisation.

“As the intensity of load shedding remains high, its cost in the form of production downtime and diesel purchases for generators are causing margin pressure.”  

No hope for the future

He says unfortunately forward-looking expectations also highlight significant pessimism in the sector, with a record majority of manufacturers expecting that business conditions will deteriorate further over the next 12 months.  

“In the short term, business conditions are likely to worsen as there is an expectation of increased load shedding during the winter season. However, the silver lining is that as additional generation capacity comes online, business conditions will improve over the longer term,” Schmidt said.  

“Manufacturing remains vital to the growth of the South African economy as evident by the growth recorded in the Q1 2023 GDP figures released by Stats SA. Given the current energy crisis faced by the country, manufacturers’ investments are focused on remaining in operation while investments into additions or expansions remain on hold,” he said.

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