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Macroeconomic Uncertainty in South Africa

This paper develops a new index of economic uncertainty for South Africa for the period 1990-2014 and analyses the macroeconomic impact of changes in this measure. The index is constructed from three sources: (1) Disagreement among professional forecasters about macroeconomic conditions using novel data from a forecasting competition run by a national newspaper, (2) a count of international and local newspaper articles discussing economic uncertainty in South Africa and (3) mentions of uncertainty in the quarterly economic review of the South African Reserve Bank. The index shows high levels of uncertainty around the period of democratic transition in 1992-4, the large depreciation of the currency in 2001 and the financial crisis of 2008. The uncertainty index is a leading indicator of a recession. An unanticipated increase in the index is associated with a fall in GDP, investment, industrial production and private sector employment. Contrary to evidence for the U.S.A and U.K., uncertainty shocks are inflationary. These results are robust to controlling for consumer confidence and a measure of financial stress. I show that these results are consistent with a simple New Keynesian model subject to volatility shocks in technology. In this model, nominal rigidities induce firms to raise prices as a precautionary measure when future demand becomes more uncertain.

Working paper 509
1 March 2015
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