S. Africa's business confidence improves in fourth quarter as lockdowns ease - survey

Nov 25 (Reuters) - South Africa’s business confidence improved in the fourth quarter of the year, a survey showed on Wednesday, as easing of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past few months led to a resurgence in economic activity.

The Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) business confidence index (BCI), compiled by the Bureau for Economic Research, jumped to 40 points in the fourth quarter from 24 points in the third quarter.

The report showed that confidence among retailers and wholesalers rocketed during the quarter, clocking a better improvement than during seasonal Black Friday and festive holiday sales periods.

Retailers also benefited from the shift in consumer spending toward ready-made meals and work-from-home equipment, according to the survey.

However, the survey pointed out that supply-side activity needed to catch up more strongly with demand to help ensure the upward trend in confidence lasts.

“Although the surge in business confidence is encouraging, it only signifies an economy that’s out of intensive care, and not out of high care,” Ettienne Le Roux, chief economist at RMB said.

South Africa’s central bank on Tuesday warned that a massive increase in projected government debt and problem mortgages posed a “major threat” to the country’s financial stability.

Africa’s most industrialised economy was in recession even before the pandemic struck, with strict lockdowns compounding its woes.

The country has the highest rate of recorded COVID-19 cases on the continent, with more than 750,000 confirmed cases and over 20,000 related deaths.

The survey was conducted online between Oct. 5 and Nov. 16, covering about 1,800 executives across building, manufacturing and the domestic trade sectors. (Reporting by Samantha Machado in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)