February 21, 2020 / 10:40 AM / 3 months ago

South Africa to hike personal income and excise taxes in budget

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s National Treasury will try to trim its swollen budget deficit by raising revenue through personal income and excise tax hikes at its budget review on Feb. 26, a Reuters poll found on Friday.

South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni speaks during his budget speech at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

The poll, taken over the past four days, showed all but one of 17 economists expected budget revenue to fall short of the Treasury’s revised October forecast. The median estimate was for an 18.5 billion rand ($1.2 billion) shortfall this financial year.

South Africa’s consolidated budget deficit probably widened to 6.2% of gross domestic product in the financial year ending on March 31, more than an October government estimate of 5.9% of GDP.

“The outcome reflects the impact of significant revenue shortfalls, due to much weaker-than-expected economic growth, and sharply higher expenditure, caused by the additional bailout of Eskom, South African Airways and other loss-making state-owned agencies,” Nedbank economists wrote in a note.

A separate Reuters poll last week put growth at 0.8% this year and 1.3% next, suggesting very minimal economic activity for South Africans eager to join the world of work and for the government to broaden the tax base. [ECILT/ZA]

However, the latest poll also suggested the government would find a way to trim its budget deficit. While it will increase to 6.3% next fiscal year it will fall to 6% the year after and then to 5.7%. The October Treasury estimates were 6.5%, 6.2% and 5.9%, respectively.

Eleven economists said the Treasury would raise personal income tax and nine said excise duties would go up, easily the most popular replies in a multiple choice survey.

Six said value added tax (VAT) would rise, six said the government would sell some non-core assets to raise money. But none said corporate income tax would be increased as it would hamper already low business confidence.

Other suggestions included wealth, capital gains or dividend taxes or not adjusting tax brackets for inflation. Respondents were allowed to pick more than one option.

Mike van der Westhuizen, a portfolio manager at Citadel, said the government tried to reduce its huge wage bill through a voluntary redundancy and natural attrition approach but that had not been effective.

“Maybe the lower inflation outlook from the Reserve Bank and pinning of inflation expectations might help in negotiating lower wage hikes, but that is unlikely to be enough,” added van der Westhuizen.

A Reuters poll last week showed South African inflation would average 4.4% this year - 0.4 percentage points lower than forecast in a January survey - beneficial to consumers, especially if interest rates are cut further this year as expected.

Editing by Toby Chopra

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