Archives for category: Kenya

I was slightly depressed after reading the highlights of the 2013 Kenya Economic Survey (pdf). Almost all topics we discuss in this blog, like employment, wages, industrial development and balance of trade, do not look good. Here are some highlights of the highlights:

Industrial development: not really happening

The manufacturing Sector decelerated from an  expansion 3.4 per cent in 2011 to a growth rate of  3.1 per cent in 2012. The slower growth was due to high cost of production, stiff competition from imported goods, high cost of credit and political uncertainty due to the 2013 General  Elections

Employment: 90 percent of new jobs are informal. Wages are falling

  • The labour market recorded 659.4 thousand new jobs in 2012, 89.7 percent of them were in the informal sector representing an increase of 5.5 per cent.
  • Real average wages declined by 4.8 per cent due to inflation.
  • The creation of new jobs in the “modern sector” declined from 74.2 thousands in 2011 to 68.0 thousand in 2012.

 International trade: a growing deficit

  • Kenya’s trade balance worsened further by 8.7 per cent in 2012 compared to 46.7 per cent in 2011
  • The current account deteriorated to a deficit of KSh359.5 billion in 2012 from a deficit of 340.2 billion in 2011.

There are not only bad news in the report, for example there has been increased job creation in the construction sector, ICT industries as well as the education and health activities. And inflation has gone down, which is very good news for the lower income population. But that’s not enough for sustained economic growth over the long term.

Tourism has gone down too by the way. More here

I’ve always wondered how thousands of cab drivers organize themselves in a chaotic place like the Nairobi Central Business District. So I did a small research on my own. The sample size is 1, David my awesome cab-driver.

The story is that if you want to be a cab driver anywhere in town you must become a member of the taxi-drivers association in charge of that area. The association where David works controls the Nakumatt Lifestyle area, the Tuskys Supermarket area (that’s where David is always parked) and the street in front of Uchumi supermarket. Membership comes at a cost of 5000 KSh per year (about $60).

For the first three years, you are obliged to rent a car from the association at a fixed cost of 1500KSh per day (about $20) and a variable cost based on mileage. You cannot own the car you use for work. This means that some rental cars are available only at night time, others only during the day time. David prefers the daytime shift but for more than two years he was forced to work at night -all the cars were already taken during the day. Only a couple of months ago he was able to change, but he says that “traffic is horrible” during the day.  So sometimes he works both day and night.

If you’ve been loyal to the association, after three years you become a senior member  and you’re allowed to buy your own car. The cost for a car in Kenya is very high – second hand cars go from KSh 400,000 to 600.000 (about $5000 to $7000). And that is for a 10-years old basic model. You can easily spend KSh 1 million ($12,000) if you want a slightly newer or fancier car. If you own more than one car, you can rent one of them to the association’s junior members.

Owning your car instead of renting it means higher profits, as well as higher risks and maintenance costs. Most people would rather own their vehicle anyway, but only a few are able to obtain a bank loan or borrow from family or friends. David will become a senior member in 6 months and his plan is apply for a loan at Equity bank and buy a Toyota for about KSh 450,00. He says that Toyota cars never break and spare parts are cheaper and easier to find in Nairobi. His main worry is that he’ll get carjacked again.

The African Statistical Journal has an interesting paper by John C. Anyanwu on the driving factors of male employment in African countries. The journal -published by the African Development Bank- is available for free here (pdf). Some interesting facts:

 Fact 1 – There is a substantial variation in male and female employment ratios across African countries. The difference is particularly evident if we compare oil-exporting and North African countries with smaller Sub Saharan African economies. The latter tend to have higher employment ratios for both the male and female population.

 

Source: Anyanwu (2013)

Source: Anyanwu (2013)

Fact 2 – In some African countries, male employment decreased between 1991 and 2010

The author argues that the decline has been particularly intense in some countries such as Niger, Be­nin, Rwanda, Lesotho, Burundi and our beloved Kenya.

Source: Anyanwu (2013)

Source: Anyanwu (2013)

One of these days I’ll have to sit down and try to understand some of these dynamics. For example, Rwanda -the “super star” of the Doing Business Reports - has done so bad in terms of employment, while Zimbabwe – land of the highly criticized indigenisation law – is one of the best performers? I guess there is a number of historical and contextual factors to take into consideration. If you have quick thoughts or further questions please share them in the comment section.

Fact 3 – The data from 1991 and 2009 show an U-shaped correlation between male employment ratio and GDP per capita

 

Source: Anyanwu (2013)

Source: Anyanwu (2013)

 

The paper uses employment data from the ILO and the World Bank –which are probably the most reliable sources currently available – but we should be always highly suspicious when it comes to employment stats in African countries. Informality is too widespread, and employment happens far too often outside the radar of government institutions and statistical agencies. Not long ago, Shanta Devarajan called it the African Statistical Tragedy. Should we therefore discard the arguments in the paper?

Although the stats might not be extremely accurate, I think that the trends could be right, especially if we consider how economic growth is happening in most parts of Africa. As I said in my last post, growth is happening without a structural transformation of the economies towards labour-intensive sectors. In particular, the manufacturing sector, which absorbs large part of the labour force in most emerging economies, is not expanding in most parts of Africa. But more research is definitely needed in this field.

The full paper is here.

There is an old joke in East Africa that the EAC (East African Community) will succeed only when Tanzanians learn English, Ugandans learn Swahili, and Kenyans learn manners. Fortunately language barriers and old stereotypes are not the main drivers of the current policy agenda. The priority is instead to speed-up economic integration and establish (actually, “re-establish”) a common currency –the East African Shilling – across the 5 EAC countries: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Is this is a good idea?

Let’s start with a little theory first –a primer on economic integration as I studied in my undergrads. Look at the figure below (source)

Stages of economic integration

Theory says that there are 5 steps to economic integration: you start with free trade area, which abolishes partially or completely the custom tariffs between member countries. In the second step, a Custom Union is formed when member countries agree to uniform external tariffs towards third countries. The common market adds the free movement of the factors of production, including services, capital and labor. In the fourth step, the economic union introduces a common currency as well as common monetary, fiscal and budgetary policy. Usually this is complemented by the harmonization of tax and welfare policies. Finally, the very last step is the full political integration with the establishment of a common government.

Where is the EAC?

The EAC established a customs union in 2005, a common market in 2010 and now it aims at the fourth step with the establishment of an economic union. I must admit that I am excited about the idea but also very worried. Here’s a list of my concerns:

First, the EAC is only half way through to the third step (common market), and it is jumping already into the fourth (economic union). The truth that everybody knows is that free movement of capital and labour is far from being achieved. Labour cannot move freely because of long-standing legal and regulatory barriers. Goods cannot move freely as well, especially because non-tariff barriers are still a huge burden. Just a silly example, I’ve learnt from personal experience that many bus companies ship packages from Uganda to Kenya, but not the other way around. Reason? I was told it was “a problem at the border with Uganda”. Who knows what that means…

Second, you cannot create a common currency without creating common fiscal and budgetary policies. The EAC governments seem aware of this issue, and in fact they proposed the establishment of an “East African Financial Services Authority”, “East African Surveillance and Enforcement Commission” and the “East African Statistics Bureau”. This all sounds wonderful, but the real issue is whether national governments are willing to give up sovereignty over such important matters. Let me borrow some sentences from an article on Columbia Communique:

Is the wish for closer relationships a good thing? Absolutely. Does it have to be achieved as fast as possible and through the handcuffs of a currency union? Absolutely not. Not only will this process take many years, it will also require full commitment. They can’t have their cake (the currency union) and eat it too (maintain sovereignty in all areas).

Currently the EAC countries have very different import-export mixes, making them vulnerable to changes in world goods prices to different degrees. Without strong fiscal centralization including a counter-cyclical mandate and no adjustment mechanisms such as inflation or devaluation, a currency union can have devastating effects on countries hit hard by an external shock.

My last point is that the EAC has to learn from the experience in the EU: a monetary union must be able to deal with both periods of economic growth as well as periods of crisis and recession. How will the EAC act in case of fiscal mismanagement? What will it do if a country enters a period of financial and economic crisis? Will the regional powerhouse (Kenya) step in and help the “periphery”?  I know that using these terms is quite a stretch in the EAC context. But the region cannot ignore the experiences in other parts of the world. And more importantly, the EAC cannot ignore that it already failed in forming a monetary union in the past – neglecting its own history would be the worst of the mistakes.

Some figures:

Kenya applies the EAC Customs Union’s Common External Tariff (CET), which includes three tariff bands: zero duty for raw materials and inputs; 10 percent for processed or manufactured inputs; and 25 percent for finished products. “Sensitive” products and commodities, comprising 58 tariff lines, have applied ad valorem rates above 25 percent.  This includes a 60 percent rate for most milk products, 50 percent for corn and corn flour, 75 percent for rice, 35 percent for wheat, and 60 percent for wheat flour. For some products and commodities, the tariffs vary across the five EAC member states.

The report touches a number of other issues, including non-tariff barriers, custom procedures at the Port of Mombasa, intellectual property right protection and many other things. An interesting bit on counterfeiting:

According to a survey released by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) in April 2012, the Kenyan economy is losing at least $433 million annually due to counterfeiting. The study estimated that the GOK is losing approximately $72 million in potential tax revenue, and that some Kenyan companies could be losing as much as 65 percent to 70 percent of their regional market share due to counterfeiting.

Kenya’s EPZs have served as a conduit for counterfeit and sub-standard goods. These products enter the EPZ ostensibly as sub-assembly or raw materials, but are actually finished products. These counterfeit and sub-standard goods also end up in the Kenyan marketplace without responsible parties paying the necessary taxes. Counterfeit batteries have been particularly problematic.

More here

Paul Kinuthia (on the right) – Photo Credit: Business Daily

Paul Kinuthia started a small cosmetics business in the Kariobangi Light Industries (in Nairobi) 20 years ago with a start-up capital of 3000 KSh (less than 40 USD). He sold it to L’Oreal last week for over KSh 3 billion (about USD 35 million). Here’s the story on Forbes and on Business Daily.

Of course extreme success stories like Paul Kinuthia’s do not happen on a daily basis in Kariobangi. But, as I’ve said before, there is large diversity and growth potential in places like Kariobangi, although we like to call them “informal economy” or “survival clusters”. An excerpt from the Forbes article:

Kinuthia has a remarkable story. In 1995, he started off manufacturing shampoos and conditioners from a makeshift apartment in Nairobi with start-up capital of Ksh 3,000 ($40). He made these products manually using plastic drums and a huge mixing stick and heating oils, delivering his products by handcart to local salons and hairdressers. In the beginning, commercial banks refused to fund his venture while mainstream salons, beauty parlours and large retail outlets refused to stock his product because it was too native.

As the demand for his products grew, Kinuthia moved the business into bigger premises in downtown Nairobi and expanded his product range to include hair gels and pomades. While the bigger, sophisticated salons and supermarkets snubbed his products, they were very popular with street side local hairdressers because of their availability and significantly lower prices in comparison to the products on the shelves of the big retail outlets. As the products became more popular with local hairdressers, Kinuthia ploughed back his profits into moving into an even bigger place, financing growth, increasing his production capacity and extending his product range. In 1996, he incorporated a limited liability company and went on to produce body lotions and hair treatments. The new company set up better operational strategies, laying emphasis on quality and improving its packaging. By the late 90s, the company’s products were commercially available across Kenya’s mainstream retail and wholesale chains and were already commanding a sizable market share. By 2001, the company was already exporting its products to neighbouring TanzaniaUganda and Rwanda.

But despite the huge success of his business, Paul Kinuthia maintained one common characteristic of Kariobangi entrepreneurs – he doesn’t like questions from strangers. When Forbes called him for an interview, his secretary kindly relplied “Mr Kinuthia is not available”. I know the feeling very well.

More here

Just like I did last year, this morning I played around with data on imports and exports from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics. Understanding the trends of international trade in Kenya is extremely important – as I have said a hundred times in this blog, the imbalance between imports and exports is one of the major weaknesses of the Kenyan economy and one of the root causes for macroeconomic volatility. So, what is Kenya exporting to the outside world? What are the major export destinations?  How about imports?  Are they still growing faster than the exports?

Let me say in advance that here I am showing some basic figures. If you want to know more about imports and exports for specific commodities (tea, fruits, flowers, etc) in specific months you can find very detailed data here. So, let’s  take a look at imports first  (Click on the images to enlarge).

Kenya - Major origin of imports in 2011-2012

Kenya - Imports by broad economic category

The two graphs show two very interesting trends. First, India has officially outgrown China and the UAE as the major importer to Kenya. The value of imports from the UAE has decreased because the Kenyan Shilling has gained strength and therefore its oil bill has gone down significantly. When it comes to China and India, I would like to see an analysis of the political economy behind these trends.   Which African countries are “going Indian” and why? And is this trend relevant only for trade or also in terms of foreign direct investments? A recent article on The Star explained the trend in these terms:

Analysts say India has managed to clinch the lion’s share of Kenya’s import volumes because of, among others, the prevailing cordial foreign policy between the two countries since Kenya gained independence, relatively cheaper goods, quality, and proximity of its ports to Kenya.

The main imports from India include textiles, petroleum products obtained from bituminous minerals (other than crude), medical equipment and drugs, pharmaceuticals, flat-rolled iron and non-alloy steel products, electrical goods, food-processing machinery, special purpose motor vehicles and trucks among others.

“There are quite a number of factors why Kenya is importing more from India. For instance, you will realise that many products on sale in Kenyan retail stores – such as textiles (garments) – come from India. They are cheaper and as we know, Kenyan consumers are sensitive to price, making these a top choice,” said Tiberius Barasa, the executive director of the Centre for Policy Research, a governance and public policy analysis think-tank.

If you know of any paper on this issue please leave it in the comment section.

The second trend is that imports in the broad economic categories have gone up substantially between 2011 and 2012, but we cannot say the same about exports, which remained stagnant over the two-years period. What I find more worrying is that exports to the East African region have decreased (look at Uganda and Tanzania) or increased slightly (Rwanda).

The East African has an interesting analysis on the stagnation of Kenyan exports over the last decade. At the regional level, Kenya is growing as a major importer, but definitely not as an exporter:

Kenya’s standing as East Africa’s trade giant is under threat from neighbouring nations with fresh data showing the growth rate of its exports to the region has been declining over the past eight years.

…The study shows that Kenya’s contribution to total intra-EAC exports declined from 78.3 per cent in 2005 to 57.2 per cent in 2010, although its contribution to total intra-EAC trade increased from 7.5 per cent in 2005 to 16.7 per cent in 2010 on the back of increased imports.

Comparatively, Tanzania and Uganda’s contributions to total intra-EAC trade increased sharply from 6.6 and 4.2 per cent in 2005 to 20.67 and 19.2 per cent respectively in 2010, taking up the share that Kenya lost. On imports, however, Tanzania and Uganda have lost ground.

Tanzania’s contribution to intra-EAC imports declined from 22.4 per cent in 2005 to 18.9 in 2010 while Uganda’s dipped from 70.1 per cent in 2005 to 36.9 per cent in 2010.

Kenya - Exports by broad economic category in 2012

Kenya - major export destinations in 2011-2012

Uhuru and Ruto wrote in the Jubilee Manifesto that they plan to establish a development Bank to “prop up the private players”. Although nobody is talking about it, and although we have no idea if that will happen anytime soon, this could be a huge deal for the future of Kenya. What is a development bank? And is it a good or a bad idea for Kenya?

A traditional definition of a development bank is one which is a national or regional financial institution designed to provide medium-and long-term capital for productive investment, often accompanied by technical assistance, in less-developed areas. Development banks fill a gap left by undeveloped capital markets and the reluctance of commercial banks to offer long-term financing. [full “primer on development banking” here]

We have to keep in mind is that UhuRuto provided no details about how a development bank fits into their grand scheme for economic development in Kenya. For example, we don’t know if the objective is to promote small businesses (like the informal sector or SMEs), whether they want to finance large infrastructural projects, agriculture or large manufacturing industries.  However, the sure thing is that whenever the plan is to increase the government role in the economy, you attract both huge praise and criticism:  that’s the difference between the “industrial policy view” and the “political view”

According to the industrial policy view, development banks do more than just lending to build large infrastructure projects. They also lend to companies that would not undertake projects if it was not for the availability of long-term, subsidized funding of a development bank. Furthermore, development banks may provide firms with capital conditional on operational improvements and performance targets. In such circumstances, we would expect to see the firms who borrow from development banks increasing capital investments and overall profitability after they get a loan.

According to the political view, on the other hand, lending by development banks leads to misallocation of credit for two reasons. First, development banks tend to bailout companies that would otherwise fail (this is the soft-budget constraint hypothesis, e.g. Kornai, 1979). Second, the rent-seeking hypothesis argues that politicians create and maintain state-owned banks not to channel funds to socially efficient uses, but rather to maximize their personal objectives or engage in patronage deals with politically-connected industrialists.

So, whether a development bank is a good idea or not for Kenya entirely depends on your opinion on the current political class: will they be committed-to-development or good-old rent-seekers? For now I want to keep on the optimist side.

I was very glad to find out that Kariobangi was nominated by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) as “Best Business Blog” for 2013. Thanks heaps to the readers who voted me and to BAKE for organizing this. The full list of nominees is here. If you enjoyed reading my posts, you can vote for Kariobangi blog here.

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the huge profits made in the banking sector in 2012. The largest Kenyan banks like Equity, Cooperative and CFC have recorded impressive figures, with profits growing up to 58 percent compared to the previous year. Is that normal? And is that good for the economy?

One of the criticisms that people make is that the banking sector squeezes profits out of firms, affecting more or less indirectly investments, job creation and the overall growth of the rest of the economy. Is that true?


Photo credit: Business Daily

What is definitely true is that macroeconomic volatility advantaged Kenyan banks last year. When the Central Bank of Kenya increased its main lending rate by a massive 12 percent in three months, banks were forced to increase interests on loans from an average of 14 percent  to an awfully high 26 percent. Interest rates on deposits however remained untouched at around 5 percent. The huge spread between loans and deposits rates was an important factor behind the growth of bank profits last year.

This prompted consumer associations to ask for government controls on interest rates:

Unless there is some sort of control they will always make abnormal profits at the expense of the economy. We thought they would self-regulate but this seems not to be the case [...] All indicators show that they shouldn’t be charging what they are currently charging.

I think that encouraging competition among banks is a better solution than having government controls. Although the Kenyan financial sector is relatively more developed compared to most African countries, the banking sector is still highly concentrated. 6 out 44 banks in Kenya control 56 percent of the market. Plus, the government is still very much involved in the market, having shares in a variety of institutions.

But anyway, if we go beyond the Kenyan specific case we have to realize another important aspect: the financial sector tends to be extremely profitable all over the world. Why? Talking about the US financial sector, the excellent Noah Smith points to two factors: socialization of risk and natural monopoly of the financial market:

Why is finance so profitable? One possibility is socialization of risk: in other words, the government implicitly guarantees that big banks won’t fail, which allows banks to make profit in good times and shift losses onto the taxpayer when things go bad.

… Another possibility is that finance is a natural monopoly. This is weird, since finance has few network effects like Facebook or Google, and doesn’t require exclusive local land access like a public utility. But in economics, any industry where economies of scale are large will gain monopoly power, and hence high profits. And banks may benefit a lot from economies of scale. Why? My intuition says that it’s part of the definition of what a bank is. A bank – or any financial institution that acts like a bank, which is most of them – makes its profits by borrowing short and lending long, and this makes it fundamentally vulnerable to a bank run

Over at NPR Jacob Goldstein develops the issue further:

Even the most boring, safe, neighborhood bank is in a crazy, risky business. A bank takes money people put in checking and savings accounts — money those people are allowed to withdraw at any time — and lends it out to other people, who don’t have to pay it back for 30 years.

Yet most people assume their money is safe in the bank. They assume that somehow, even if a bank takes all the money in its checking accounts and lends it out to people who don’t pay it back, the people with checking accounts will still be able to get their money.

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