• Sacci's business confidence index (BCI) came in at 98.9 in February, down from a January high.
  • But it is still a heck of a lot better than it was this time last year.
  • Sacci believes the thing to watch now is the next interest rate decision.

Business confidence dropped slightly in February, according to an index released by the the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) on Wednesday.

The index was down 0.8 points to 98.9, after what the chamber described as the "exceptional positive mood in December 2017 and January 2018".

The index peaked in January at levels previously not seen since October 2015.

The February number is still up 3.4 index points from February 2017.

In the 13 sub-indices it uses to arrive at its number, 11 were either neutral or had improved on a year-on-year basis, Sacci said. Lower inflation in particular helped, as did increased merchandise import volumes, better new vehicle sales, and increased manufacturing output.

Weighing negatively on the annual comparison was the the high real cost of financing, and a reduction in merchandise export volumes.

The business sector appeared to still be happy with the "change in management" in which Cyril Ramaphosa became President, said Sacci economist Richard Downing. But for investment to improve, things will have to change.

"Now it is about performance, business needs to see movement," Downing told Business Insider South Africa.

The kind of growth required to increase employment requires investment in areas such as technology soon, he said.

"If you put that sort of investment on hold now you are holding back growth for six months to a year, and the urgency for growth is too great for that."

The thing to watch now is interest rates.

"The lower inflation and a stronger rand exchange rate together with a budget indicating government’s resolve to turn back from the fiscal cliff, could imply interest rate cuts that should be very topical in the coming weeks leading up to the [Reserve Bank's monetary policy meeting] in March 2018," the chamber said.

"This could enhance the economic performance over the short-term."

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