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How will the fuel price increase impact consumers, savers, and retirees?

Petrol prices are 27% more expensive than this time last year. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency/ANA

Petrol prices are 27% more expensive than this time last year. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency/ANA

Published Jul 6, 2022

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Consumer prices in South Africa are rising at an alarming rate on account of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.

These events have contributed to rising inflation impacting the pockets of South African consumers.

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The latest data released from Statistics South Africa revealed the consumer price index (CPI) reached 6.5%, which is above the maximum 6% target of the South African Reserve Bank, and the highest CPI has been since 2017.

How does fuel fit into the latest CPI increase?

The results from the latest CPI increase indicated that if fuel is removed from the CPI reading, the headline rate falls to 5.1% from the 6.5% CPI total figure. Diesel increased by 8,1% from April to May alone, taking the annual increase rate to just over 45%. Petrol prices are 27% more expensive than this time last year, meaning petrol and diesel price increases are major contributors to the overall CPI index.

“The fuel increases have a strong impact on consumers’ pockets as the current cost of living makes it challenging for people to manage their finances. The reality is people need to commute to work, transport their children to school and run other errands. During this time, we advise consumers to consider planning their day-to-day or weekly travel, join or start a work lift club and even pack lunch to help in saving any bit of money,” says Himal Parbhoo, CEO of FNB Retail Cash Investments.

United Association of South Africa

A spokesperson for the United Association of South Africa (UASA) said that the fuel price increase calls for urgent intervention as it shows inflation spiralling out of control.

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“Gauteng consumers will fork out more than R26 per litre, which paints an ugly picture regarding transport cost and the overall cost of living”, the group said.

“Since the beginning of the year, fuel prices have spiralled out of control. While UASA constantly calls on government to intervene, we take note of the fuel levy relief in the past two months. However, what is needed is a permanent solution to this monthly crisis. We can’t keep pleading with government each month on the same challenge.”

The group went on to add: “With fuel now well past the R25 margin, small businesses who depend on generators during load-shedding will struggle to keep their concerns afloat. How much more will they be forced to spend on fuel on top of the electricity tariff hikes?”

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“The current situation is an economic disaster for cash-strapped workers who must match their disposable income with growing inflation rates and survive on the little they have left.”

Will fuel prices increase further?

Unfortunately for South African motorists, early forecasts show another steep increase in the petrol price in July. Inflation is expected to surpass the 7% range, and the price of 93 octane petrol will rise by R2.37 per litre and 95 octane by R2.57 per litre.

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On the surface, a steep increase in the fuel price looks to impact those with vehicles the most. However, when digging deeper, the increase is far-reaching.

SA consumers will feel the fuel impact on their pockets. Parbhoo explains that “whilst SA consumers will experience a higher cost when refuelling their vehicle, the impact can also be felt by those consumers who use public transport as they will need to fork out extra for using these modes of transport. The increase also affects the logistics industry as higher logistic costs result in higher on-shelf costs of items such as food and clothing”.

The fuel price also impacts the South African saver. He adds: “To successfully save, consumers need to outperform inflation. When returns are lower than there is an increase in the cost of living, wealth is working backwards as capital balances will be able to buy less. Increasing fuel prices means higher returns need to be achieved for wealth to maintain or increase in value.”

With CPI reading 6.5% in May, savers need to ensure their money is growing at a higher rate. Traditional saving accounts may not offer higher enough returns to outperform inflation, and, thus, alternative savings instruments like notice accounts, fixed deposits, money market accounts or funds should be considered by South African savers.

Fuel price impact on SA retirees

Samukelo Zwane, Head of Product at FNB Wealth and Investments, says: “We urge retirees to consider having short-term saving accounts or money market funds which they can use to contribute affordable amounts so they can have excess to money for rainy days and unexpected emergencies. These investments are liquid, allowing investors to access their savings quickly without affecting the value of their investments. Short term liquidity can be used by retirees to supplement their retirement income such as when inflation drastically increases the cost of essential goods.”

He adds: “Retirees who contribute to investment-linked Living Annuities should avoid the temptation of drastically increasing their withdrawal rate to keep up with higher-than-expected increases in inflation. Instead, they should aim to withdraw at a level less than the investment return generated by their investment. By so doing, they will not be dipping into the capital on their investments. Investments in savings accounts or money market can be used to cater for higher-than-expected inflation increases. When making decisions on annual withdrawal amounts, it’s important for investors to contact their financial advisers to determine the appropriate withdrawal rate.”

Zwane further elaborates: “Pre-retirees are also affected by the sudden increases in prices of goods and services. A common trend amongst pre-retirees is to withdraw their pension when changing employers instead of preserving their pension. There is an opportunity cost of withdrawal from your pension when changing jobs. Firstly, you will lose the compounding effect of your investment.

“Secondly, your saving term for retirement is reduced, which means you will have to save more in order to meet your retirement goal. Finally, these amounts tend to be taxed heavily, which means that you will experience a tax leakage on your investment. Therefore, having a savings account or money market account enables both retirees and pre-retirees to supplement their needs as well as to preserve their long-term retirement savings.”

“The Russian-Ukraine war and sanctions may likely impose further increases in fuel prices through 2022. Consumers, savers, and retirees need to try and be prepared, especially when it comes to the knock-on effect of fuel prices on goods and services. They must use their short-term savings account and money market account to cater for higher prices of goods and services instead of tapping into their long-term investments. It is important for people to consider smart changes can be made in how they spend their money,” concludes Parbhoo.

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