Home Opinion and Features 2021 might not be a good time to launch a state bank

2021 might not be a good time to launch a state bank

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The poor state of existing state-owned enterprises such as The Land Bank and SAA has raised questions about the government’s ability to operate a bank

File picture: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

FINANCE Minister Tito Mboweni might express more support for the establishment of a state bank during his Budget Speech on Wednesday.

Mboweni tweeted earlier this month that the “cry for a state bank is loud, clear and urgent”, suggesting also that African Bank should be the platform for such a bank.

“A state bank is a potential positive disruptor to our financial system. I support its establishment. Finance Kapital (sic) is fundamental to our economic transformation. No debate about that,” he tweeted.

In last year’s budget, Mboweni said the government was ready to establish a state bank on commercial principles. He suggested an amalgamation of various provincial and other state development finance institutions.

In 2019, Parliament passed legislation allowing state businesses to apply for banking licenses.

The National Treasury was not immediately available for comment on progress towards the establishment of the bank. Nitrogen Fund Managers portfolio manager Rowan Williams said there was, in principle, a place for a well-run and efficient state bank in the market. Williams said, however, the poor state of existing state-owned enterprises such as The Land Bank and SAA has raised questions about the government’s ability to operate the new bank.

He said the Treasury’s funding capabilities were already stretched and that the costs, amalgamating of other institutions and funding such a bank, would need to be carefully considered.

Williams said he expected the budget would likely focus on the funding of vaccines, controls on expenditure and infrastructure development.

There were also questions about the role the bank should play in the market, as the percentage of unbanked people in South Africa was low, while the failure of the R200 billion made available to small businesses for additional funding through the Covid-19 pandemic showed there was currently no appetite among these businesses to take up further debt if there were too many conditions attached to it. Unsecured credit was also available in the South African market, albeit relatively expensive.

Denker Capital executive director and portfolio manager Kokkie Kooyman said he “can’t see the market being excited” about a state bank. Valuations accorded to other state banks around the world showed “the market has little faith in them”.

The high cost of funding, the pressure on the government fiscus and other socio-economic priorities also raised questions about the wisdom of establishing such a bank at present, he said.

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