Despite a string of supply-side shocks to the manufacturing sector, Justin Schmidt, Head of Manufacturing Sector at Absa Retail and Business Bank, found a positive mood and encouraging interactions at the 2022 Manufacturing Indaba.
The mood from delegates and exhibitors at the 2022 Manufacturing Indaba was more positive than what the data is indicating. “Overall, the conference had surprisingly strong attendance, with some great engagements across the manufacturing sub-sectors,” says Schmidt.
According to Absa’s Q2 Manufacturing Survey – published just a day before the Manufacturing Indaba opened at the Sandton Convention Centre – confidence levels in the sector dropped by 14 points from the first quarter of the year to 29 in the second, following a string of bad-news events.
“After surviving the past two years, manufacturers continued their recovery despite the headwinds,” says Schmidt. “However, the additional shocks caused by the floods in KwaZulu-Natal (Africa’s second-biggest manufacturing hub), the increased intensity of load shedding and the knock-on effects of the Russia-Ukraine war have weighed heavily on manufacturers. Unsurprisingly, that resulted in this knock to confidence.”
The quarterly survey covers approximately 700 businesspeople in the manufacturing sector and was conducted by Stellenbosch University’s Bureau for Economic Research in May. The confidence index ranges between zero and 100, with zero reflecting an extreme lack of confidence and 100 extreme confidence, where all participants are satisfied with current business conditions.
The manufacturing sector’s seasonally adjusted output for April 2022, as published by Statistics South Africa, also fell by 5.4% month-on-month. At the same time, Absa’s survey indicated a drop in both domestic and export sales, with manufacturers noting insufficient demand as a more serious constraint to current activities than at the start of the year.
“As consumers feel the pinch of rising food and fuel prices, along with increasing interest rates, the manufacturing sector may experience the spillover effect of reduced disposable income resulting in lower demand,” Schmidt notes.
Load shedding has also taken its toll. For manufacturers, Stage 2 load shedding – while difficult – is manageable because it allows for planning and scheduling, and it tends to happen at night. However, when South Africa moves into Stage 4 (as it did in Q2) or higher, it is a lot more difficult and costly for manufacturers to operate.
“Power is both the biggest enabler of, and the biggest constraint on, South Africa’s manufacturing growth going forward,” says Schmidt. “We must solve the power crisis – and while we are seeing some positive moves there, it needs to happen much quicker.”
Manufacturers are fully aware of the constraints on and hindrances to production with shortages of raw material ranked as their second largest constraint to activity. “There remain overarching concerns around supply chain uncertainty and rising prices,” says Schmidt.
The Manufacturing Indaba included breakaway sessions focused on precisely those issues: energy, transport and logistics, localisation – and, of course, value chain integration in the age of the African Continental Free Trade Area. It’s a busy sector, and one that – as the event’s theme underlined – has the potential to “reignite economic growth”.
With that big picture in mind, Schmidt says the short-term sentiment for South Africa’s manufacturing sector remains generally positive. “Looking further ahead, we need to see structural reforms taking place to see long-term growth and recovery,” he says. “But overall, it’s a positive sector. Manufacturing has survived the shocks of the past two years, and the sector was showing an unexpectedly strong recovery into Q1 2022. It’s reasonable to expect that it will survive those Q2 shocks and bounce back in time.”
Head of Manufacturing Sector at Absa Retail and Business Bank
“Power is both the biggest enabler of, and the biggest constraint on, South Africa’s manufacturing growth.” – Justin Schmidt | Head of Manufacturing Sector at Absa Retail and Business Bank