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JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s business confidence rose in the first quarter by 11 points in a sign that the country’s economy is picking up pace, a survey showed on Wednesday.

The Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) business confidence index compiled by the Bureau for Economic Research rose to 45 points in the first quarter from 34 points in the fourth quarter but remained below the 50-mark separating the net positive and negative territories.

“First quarter confidence jump is driven more by the expectation that the recent (mainly) market-friendly political development will boost activity levels in future than an immediate improvement in the real economy,” chief economist at RMB Ettienne Le Roux said.

Business confidence was dented by policy uncertainty under the leadership of Jacob Zuma but economists say President Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as leader of the ruling African National Congress in December, and as president last month, has raised expectations that the country will make economic reforms.

South Africa’s economy grew more than expected at the end of last year as agriculture and trade recovered, data showed last Tuesday, boosting its chances of avoiding a potentially debilitating credit ratings downgrade.

Earlier in the month, The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (SACCI) monthly business confidence index (BCI) fell to 98.9 in February from 99.7 in January as exports, imports and retail sales fell.

“It goes without saying that the current uncertainty around land reform needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. If allowed to linger, the latest rise in the RMB/BER BCI (Business Confidence Index) could easily fizzle out with little or even no enduring positive impact on business capital expenditure and the economy at large,” Le Roux added.

- REUTERS