Downgrades may lead to desperation and dishonesty

Manie van Schalkwyk of SAFPS

Manie van Schalkwyk, executive director, SAFPS

First Standard & Poor, now Fitch have rated the South African economy “junk” with huge ramifications for South African citizens, with the poorest of the poor being the worst affected.

Manie van Schalkwyk, executive director of the South African Fraud Prevention Services (SAFPS), says there will be much less money going around, a severe lack of international investment and potential job losses.

“This is significant for each and every citizen,” he adds.

Chris Gilmour, an investment analyst at Absa Wealth & Investment Management, says a possible impact of the downgrade is that interest rates may increase, adding to monthly expenses such as home loan and vehicle finance repayments. “We may also find that the rand loses further ground against international currencies, which would increase the price we pay to import foreign goods into South Africa.”

Christie Viljoen‚ senior economist at KPMG South Africa‚ says a weaker rand meant a petrol price increase. “Food prices will follow. The raw ingredient of petrol is oil‚ which is bought in dollars‚ so when the rand weakens‚ oil prices rise and so does the petrol price.”

Political analyst JP Landman notes that “even though local currency is not yet junk, the interest payable on it has increased from less than 8.5% before Pravin Gordhan was recalled from London to 9% on Friday 7th April.”

“Small change it is not,” adds Landman. “On a full year’s borrowings by government it amounts to about R2.6 million per day … for 365 days. That is about 8 000 RDP houses (21 houses per day) or support for about 24 000 students from the ‘missing middle’ to go to university.”

Viljoen says a weaker rand also means higher transport costs. “Higher transport costs affect the price of everything moved by trucks – from food to imported goods and anything you buy at a shop.”

Gilmore indicates the cost of credit will increase. “Being downgraded to junk status means we could conceivably – over time – be paying two to three percent more to service debt.”

The Consumer Goods Council of South Africa says the downgrades could also result in the distinct prospect of rising inflation and prices, which will affect consumers who are already struggling to balance household budgets.

“My concern is the level of desperation that may result,” Van Schalkwyk says. “People who become even more desperate for a job may lie on their applications. Others may see credit as a quick solution to purchasing power in a buy-now-pay later facility, and misrepresent themselves on the application.”

They could either lie about their income, inflating the truth to stretch an already-pressured budget, or be dishonest about their employment status, claiming to a have job where none exists.

For those with existing credit, interest rates will increase while salaries will not increase at the same rate, Gilmour says. This will severely compromise the average consumer’s ability to repay debt. “It’s going to mean the consumer will be under relentless pressure, particularly those who are already over-indebted.”

If you’re heavily in debt, speak to your creditors sooner rather than later, to see what plans can be put in place to assist you, he adds.

Research manager at Euromonitor, Thomas Verryn says consumers in the lower and middle income strata, will feel the impact, with a “decrease in disposable income as inflation and interest rates are likely to increase. Possible job losses are also on the cards as the cost of doing business increases and companies shed jobs to cut costs.”

Van Schalkwyk urges consumers not to misrepresent themselves.

“This is criminal and you will be listed on the fraud register with a record that is going to be extremely difficult to erase. It will also compromise your access to credit in the future.  Stick to the truth. Failing to do so can have significant consequences.”

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