The rand rose as much as 2.5% against the dollar last week following news that the economy grew by 3.3% in the second quarter after a slow start to the year, largely thanks to mining and manufacturing gains through exports.
This meant the country narrowly avoided a technical recession. The big retailers rallied on the JSE as a result.
A trade surplus and a rise in business confidence in the third quarter, ending a string of declines, are also causes for some optimism.
However, overall, there are still indications of zero growth for the year and some economists say that the increase in growth for the first six months is only about 0.6%
High unemployment, budget deficit problems, expectations of higher inflation, concerns about an interest rate increase and worries that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan could be charged over the activities of a “rogue unit” set up at Sars when he was its head, all count against a strong turnaround soon.
The effects of a long drought are also still being felt. It seems clear that the economy is showing muted signs of a recovery but is still teetering on the brink of a recession.
The prospect of a downgrade by the ratings agencies to “junk status” later this year could be the factor that tips things over the edge sometime next year. Some experts believe a downgrade is now unavoidable, despite the recent good news, but this should not deter efforts to try to avoid it.
The situation regarding Gordhan – seen by local and foreign investors as a steadying hand in a challenging environment – must be handled carefully.
The most must be made of indications that labour relations have improved somewhat, that there has been a slight rise in commodities and that trade in general could be in for a fairly good run. There is now a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel. We must not lose sight of it.