Cash fleeing South Africa in longest run of outflows since 1999; unlikely to end with cloud hanging over Zuma

Direct investments by South Africans abroad more than doubled in the fourth quarter from the previous three months

SOUTH African investors are shifting cash overseas at the most-sustained pace since outflows triggered by the end of apartheid as political upheaval undermines confidence in the continent’s second-biggest economy. 

Money poured out of the country for the 16th consecutive quarter in the final three months of 2015, the longest streak of quarterly outflows since the five years through September 1999, according to central bank data. 

An increase in South Africans investing abroad followed a gradual relaxation of exchange controls almost each year since 1995, about a year after Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) won the first all-race elections. Outflows show no sign of abating as President Jacob Zuma faces mounting pressure to resign after the country’s top court last month ruled he failed to uphold the constitution, and members of his party rallied to his defense to defeat an opposition-led effort to have him impeached. 

Investec Asset Management has seen 60% of domestic flows shift into its offshore funds in the first three months of this year, compared with 40% in the prior quarter, the company said on Monday. “We see a net outflow of rand across all our desks,” said Andrew Rissik, the managing director of foreign-currency trading at Sable Group Ltd., a London-based money manager with 100 million pounds ($142 million) in assets. “Poor decisions by Zuma and the ruling party triggered a widespread urge to move assets abroad.” 

Rand rebound

Last quarter, Sable channeled 500 million rand ($34 million) for private individuals out of the country, compared with 450 million rand in the final three months of 2015, he said. A rebound in the rand, along with other emerging-market currencies that are gaining against the dollar, has also allowed South Africans to pile up on offshore holdings, said  George Herman, head of South African investments at Cape Town-based Citadel Investment Services, which oversees about 42 billion rand. 

The rand strengthened as much as 2.3% on Monday to 14.6280 per dollar, its highest level since Dec. 8. The local currency, bonds and banking stocks plunged in December after Zuma fired his well-regarded finance minister and replaced him with a little-known lawmaker. 

The president changed his mind four days later, re-appointing Pravin Gordhan who held the post from 2009 to 2014. ‘Volatile Environment’ With the government forecasting the economy will expand at a rate of less than 1 percent this year, the risk of a credit-rating downgrade to junk and South Africa’s “politically volatile environment,” the rand’s advance is likely to be temporary as investors seek faster growing assets and havens, Herman said.

“It is difficult to make a case for substantial rand strength in the current environment, so currency will keep on flowing out.” Direct investments by South Africans abroad more than doubled in the fourth quarter from the previous three months to 37.4 billion rand, the most since the third quarter of 2014, according to data from South Africa’s central bank, released on March 8. 

“The majority of the foreign flows have been into equity and multi-asset funds offshore,” Sangeeth Sewnath, the deputy managing director of Cape Town-based Investec Asset Management, which oversees about $105 billion, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “This is encouraging as investors are not merely exposed to currency risk.”


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