The business, economic and political trends that will affect every business owner this year

Expect macroeconomic challenges, a vocal civil society and the rise of the black industrialists, writes Trudi Makhaya


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Against the backdrop of a weak economy and negative sentiment, 2016 brings a range of challenges but also opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Here are some of the trends to look out for:

Macroeconomic stability in doubt. The National Budget will be a tightrope performance of balancing prudence with competing demands for limited resources. As the Rand experiences one of its most volatile years in recent history, it is expected that the Reserve Bank will maintain its stance of leaving the value of the currency to be determined by market forces. However, the central bank will respond to the inflationary effects of the weak Rand through interest rate hikes.

Local government elections will dominate the political agenda. The greatest showdowns between citizens and the state have been at a local level, and the selection of ANC councillors will demonstrate the extent to which the party has taken on board its resolutions at the 2015 National General Council, which include ridding the party of corrupt representatives and improving delivery of basic services.

The EFF, known for its positions on national matters such as nationalisation, the minimum wage and land expropriation, will have to fashion a compelling vision for local governance in its election manifesto. The DA will continue to fight for relevance in this more robust political landscape.

The next phase of the student movement and other social movements. The next terrain of protest and debate will be on the issue of free tertiary education. The year of the student (2015) has also revitalised civil society. Expect to hear more from other segments of society, including the churches, other segments of the youth and increasing levels of activism from the middle class.

"Africa is still rising though there are some steep hills to climb"

Home-grown solutions for the sharing economy. Over the past few years, South Africans have adopted peer-based services developed in other parts of the world such as Uber and Airbnb. Expect to see more South Africans startups emerge or refine their positions in this space, one of the few areas of buzzing entrepreneurial activity in South Africa. These innovative businesses will place some pressure on the pricing power and margins of incumbents though SA will remain a highly concentrated, high-cost economy for some time. 

Corporate action despite the weak economy. A weak economy does not mean the lack of significant deals in the corporate landscape. In fact, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures might be a way to cope with the tough environment. The stage is set for the takeover of SABMiller by Anheuser-Busch InBev to play itself out in South Africa. But the direction of investment is likely to flow outwards in 2016 as local companies and funds intensify their efforts to seek opportunities abroad. 

The rise of the black industrialist. Frustration with the ‘absentee investors’ of the early waves of black economic empowerment initiatives has created the need for a new generation of operationally involved entrepreneurs. The policy response includes the ‘black industrialist programme’, backed with government funding and procurement. For aspiring black entrepreneurs, this will mean greater support for operational businesses, something which has been difficult, according to research from the Department of Trade Industry. The black industrialist programme might also provide opportunities for white owners seeking to exit their businesses for retirement and other reasons.

Africa is still rising though there are some steep hills to climb. The 'Africa Rising' narrative, which has seen the continent painted as the ‘next frontier’ for wealth creation, has become more muted. Yet, the vitality of African economies is not as dependent on commodities as in the past. It is still wise to seek exposure to the continent’s fast growth markets. Some like Kenya and Nigeria will be familiar to South African investors though hard lessons have been learned over the years. Others, like Ethiopia and Côte d’Ivoire, promise to become increasingly attractive and significant but require a more cautious approach. 

BRIC partners are down but not out. Recent data shows that the South Africa’s BRIC partners are each facing significant challenges. China is undergoing major shifts, Russia and Brazil are in recession, and though India has continued to score respectable economic performance after Narendra Modi took office in 2014, he has not delivered economic growth beyond 2 percent. Nonetheless, Brazil, Russia, India and China are too significant to be written off. They will stumble in the near-term, but it is clear that they are important drivers of the global economy in the future. 

About the author: Trudi Makhaya is CEO of Makhaya Advisory and a consulting economist to Mercantile Bank. 

  • This is a shortened version of the report by Trudi Makhaya entitled 'Trends for entrepreneurs to look out for in 2016'. 
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