The economic perspective

31 01 2012

It was not an auspicious start.
“What are you looking for?” asked the attendant in the very dim interior of CBZ bank in Borrowdale.
“The withdrawal slips” I replied.
“Here you are” he said, handing me a photocopy of the usual slip.
I wondered if they were photocopied because that was the only way they could keep up with demand or maybe there was a more prosaic reason. I filled it in to draw the estimated $3000 that I needed to buy seed and various other inputs for the remainder of the month and moved to the queue. There were no lights and the TV (yes, Zimbabwe banks have a TV on to entertain those in the queues) kept turning on and off and then gave up. A fan at the other end of the counter put up a valiant attempt and then gave up too. The lights remained off.

“Hello Mr Roberts” the teller greeted me in her usual cheery fashion. I looked over at the blank computer monitor and gave her the withdrawal slip.
“Oh, we are only giving out $1000 per person” she said on seeing the amount. “You will have to speak to the manager if you want more”.

I exchanged the standard “how are you” greetings with the manager and to my surprise she said “Actually I am not happy, the generator has packed up” and proceeded to phone around to get someone to come and help. She also told me that I could only draw $1000 a day. I applied a bit of pressure and made no move to leave her office. She tried another tactic: “By this weekend you will be able to draw as much as you like”. I said yes, but I had to get inputs NOW! She eventually gave up and I handed over the cash withdrawal slip and left her office.

Now the stock market listings may not be everyone’s idea of light entertainment but most people have not seen the ZSE (Zimbabwe Stock Exchange) listings. I turned to the back page of The Herald business section on the bank manager’s desk. I would think most countries list share prices in “whole” currency units but in Zimbabwe we list them in US cents! All of 4 companies were listed as trading shares at over $1 and though some were not trading at all (not sure why) some were trading at a lot less than 1c. Gulliver 0.01c, Celsys 0.04c, Cairns Foods 0.07c. The vast majority showed negative growth with Gulliver – once a top construction company – nearly leading the pack at -63% for this month (that has to take some doing!) and Ariston at the other end of the spectrum up 56% for the month with a share price at around 1.30c.

“I guess this puts the economy in perspective” I said to the manager as she came back into her office with my money. She just shook her head.