Tag: economy

How Zuma killed Stuttafords

Stuttafords officially closed its doors on Monday, 31 July after 159 years of operating in the South African retail market.

The retailer filed for business rescue in October 2016, after it could not recover from the pressures of the low growing economy and the significant devaluation of the rand following the axing of former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene.
A final bid to buy the last two operating stores in Sandton and Eastgate was rejected by the landlord, Liberty. Chief executive Robert Amoils told Fin24 that all staff at the two remaining stores will be retrenched and have their full retrenchment packages paid.

The business is currently undergoing a winding down process which will take a few months to complete. A sale of Stuttafords intellectual property is being finalised by the business rescue practitioners.

Amoils had explained to Fin24 that the business had been on the right path, but simply ran out of time to correct things. “I believe the path we set was correct. I believe the repositioning we did was consistent with what international trends have shown to work,” he said.

“Simply, we ran out of runway, we ran out of time. The market downturn was so swift, so severe and was paralleled with significant [rand] devaluation and political uncertainty.”

Amoils explained that the rand devaluation impacted the business model negatively because commitments were made to buy international brands almost a year in advance. But director at Norton Rose Fulbright and senior insolvency lawyer Haroon Laher said that the downfall could not be pinned down to the economy only.

“I think there were a number of factors. There was a lot of tension between the shareholders which obviously is tension in the house, so to speak. That did not contribute to a successful business rescue.”

Stefan Salzer, partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group said that generally the retail sector is under pressure. Particularly in recessionary conditions consumers tend to cut down on spend for discretionary items such as clothing, household appliances and furniture.

“It is tough not to buy food but it is very easy not to buy a TV or buy the latest fashions from Stuttafords,” he said.
Salzer explained that over the past two to three years international clothing retailers had been entering the market, posing another complication for Stuttafords. Amoils previously told Fin24 that the arrival of international players like H&M, Zara and Cotton On had cut into their customer base.

That, coupled with increasing financial pressures on consumers and changing credit regulations did not contribute positively to the environment for clothing retailers, said Salzer.

Indeed, the devaluation of the rand impacted Stuttafords profits, he explained. An item that cost $3 would end up costing more at a later stage due to the sensitivity of the currency. This cost could be borne by the consumers, in the final price charged for the item, or the retailer would have to carry the expense and let profit take a knock.
Stuttafords purveys international brands and this set it in a disadvantage to other local retailers which rely on South African produced and sourced products, explained Salzer.

International players
Salzer said that international players are also clear on what they are, and on what they are not.
These retailers also differentiate between “basics” and fashion items and price these accordingly. For example a basic white T-shirt would be just that. Contrarily South African retailers would sell a “basic” white T-shirt with some print on it. Additionally, South African retailers often do not match pricing for basic and fashion items appropriately. Something considered basic, would be priced as a fashion item.

Local retailers also need to adopt fashion faster as international retailers do, he said. International retailers also have the advantage of scale, they have access to global brands at larger volumes.

South African retailers should also learn to introduce a “theatre of shopping” to inspire people to buy. Some retailers just put items on shelves, which is not as inspiring as having a styled manikin, he explained. A consumer could walk into a store with the idea to buy a T-shirt but then leave with a dress because the product was represented in an emotive and inspirational way, said Salzer.

International players also follow a different model when it comes to planning and buying merchandise, explained Derek Engelbrecht partner and consumer products and retail sector leader at EY. Global brands have a sense of urgency and frequency with which they change offerings.

“That is probably one of the key reasons the department store has battled. In gold old fashioned department store planning, the business would put new things on the shelf when the seasons change.”
“Global brands have worked hard and long to perfect the model where they are able to put items on the shelf every four to six weeks,” he said.

Develop a niche
Globally, the department store is facing challenges, explained Salzer. The way forward is to develop niche or specialist stores. Given South Africa’s mall culture, retailers do not necessarily have to stock all kinds of items under one roof, when a consumer can get these products a few meters away in a different store.

Salzer added that if some retailers still want to diversify their offerings, they need to be clear on the overall theme they are offering, like quality, convenience or affordability. For example a retailer could offer clothing items and cars, if the overall expectation of the offering was quality.

Engelbrecht explained that retailers can no longer be all things to all people. “If you follow approach of being all things to all people at some point your customer will leave you,” he says.

“If you identify the niche or the consumer you are targeting, while it may not appeal to all people, at least you are guaranteed that you created something unique. That is probably where the slow demise of the department store as a concept comes from.”

Engelbrecht also pointed out the importance of retailers adapting to the world in which they operate in.
Before entering business rescue, Amoils said Stuttafords had managed to reposition itself as a provider of cutting edge fashion and offered affordable branded luxury. The customer base was also more reflective of the South African consumer, with over 60% of Stuttafords’ market being black. The group also started focusing on targeting younger, tech-savvy consumers. “We perpetually evolved and I think we did a good job in the last five years,” says Amoils.

By Lameez Omarjee for Fin24

SA’s aging fuel refineries holding us back

BMI Research says SA will become increasingly dependent on imported fuels, as ageing refineries cannot supply the fuels modern cars need.

Allowing the government to set the petrol price once a month is keeping SA’s cars and fuels stuck in the past, BMI Research warned in a note released on Tuesday morning.

SA had to indefinitely delay its plan to introduce Euro V fuel standards in July because the profitability of local refineries is too low for them to recoup the investment required to upgrade their plants.

Since modern cars are increasingly designed to run on the cleaner fuels that SA’s ageing refineries cannot produce, the country’s dependence on imported petrol and diesel will grow.

“Increases to the new vehicle emissions tax last year will promote the sales of more modern and efficient vehicles. However, domestic refining capacity will be unable to meet the demand for higher-quality fuel,” the report said.

“As a result, SA will face a higher import burden for higher-quality fuel. This poses additional headwinds to domestic refiners due to the increasing competitiveness of fuel imports.

“A build-out in global products capacity has lowered the cost of imports, with production centres in Asia and Europe already upgraded to higher standards.”

BMI said one “flash of positivity” was Sinopec’s purchase of Chevron’s 110,000-barrels-a-day Cape Town refinery.

“The more risk-tolerant Sinopec already possesses experience in upgrading refineries to higher fuel standards in China and, whilst the potential investment in a higher-quality product slate is unlikely with Chevron as operator, Sinopec may view the upgrade as a longer-term opportunity within the country,” BMI said.

“However, upgrading existing capacity will nonetheless be expensive, with Chevron previously estimating the cost of upgrading the Cape Town refinery to be around $1bn.”

Source: Business Day

Are we in the next tech bubble?

The obvious question is whether the likes of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google – collectively known as the FAANGs stocks – are merely pausing for breath after staggering rises so far this year or are about to launch Dotcom Bubble 2.0.

Before the sell-off, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) – had increased in value by $600-billion (R7.6-trillion).

That’s nosebleed territory.

Comparing the value of Nasdaq with the S&P, a very rough way of gauging how excited investors are about tech stocks compared with other sectors, generates the kind of multiples last seen when the dotcom bubble was primed to burst at the end of the 1990s.

The initial public offering of Snapchat earlier this year, which valued the social media company at $29-billion before ending up as a bit of a damp squib, also had a rather familiar feel to it for those with long enough memories.

Fund managers seem to think that things are getting a little toppy. According to the latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey of institutional investors, 44% think that equities are too expensive.

This is a bigger proportion than at any time since the survey began back in 1998 and up from 37% just last month.

A further 18% of respondents think that equity markets are “bubble-like”.

What’s more, three-quarters of investors said that they thought that tech stocks were either expensive or bubble-like. Investing in high-growth US stocks (being “long Nasdaq” in the vernacular) was top of the list of most crowded trades.

And a net 84% of respondents said that the US was the most overvalued region.

So, all these worried investors are rushing for the doors, right? After all, it is their clients’ money that’s at risk here, not theirs.

Well, according to the very same survey, a net 40% of asset managers say that they are overweight equities, which essentially means they’re making an outsized bet on the asset class. And what’s their favourite sector at the moment? You guessed it – technology.

There are several overlapping explanations for this apparent cognitive dissonance.

The first is that some investors really do believe that “it’s different this time” despite those words being about the most dangerous in finance.

At the turn of the millennium investors were betting on the potential of tech stocks, now that the importance of the internet and its centrality to everyday life is proven.

At the end of the 1990s roughly 300million people worldwide had (fairly clunky) access to the internet; now that figure is 10 times higher and for many it comes through the smartphone that is always on them.

Today’s big tech giants have proven business models and a long track record of churning out both revenues and profits (apart from Amazon that has only just got around to achieving the latter).

This means that while their valuations are stratospheric in market capitalisation terms, they are a bit more conservative when you look at price-to-earnings ratios.

Microsoft, for example, currently has a p:e of around 30 compared with around 50 at the time of the dotcom bubble (at which time Intel had a truly eye-watering p:e ratio of 190).

At the moment, the negativity is quite stock-specific. Short interest in Apple (essentially bets that the value of the shares will go down) has risen by 15% over the past month, according to analytics company S3 Partners.

For the four other FAANGs companies, it’s up just 5% over the same period.

Much of this can be traced to worries that the iPhone 8 won’t be as fast as its rivals.

Apple is so big that if its shares go into reverse it can have a big effect on the whole index.

Another thing weighing on the minds of investors will be the fact that just because stocks are expensive does not necessarily mean that they can’t become even more expensive.

Yes, we’re eight years into a bull market but it could extend into a ninth or 10th year.

Those investors who take their money off the table too early will lose out.

And then there is another issue and it’s a biggy – the almost total lack of other appealing asset classes in which investors can park their money.

They could sell their equities and invest in cash. But that would only guarantee that it gets slowly and surely eroded by rising inflation. And if they think equities are in a bubble then fixed-income assets are, after a decade of record-low interest rates and quantitative easing, strapped into stratosphere-bound hot-air balloons.

Fund managers could just hand the money back to investors but then they wouldn’t earn any fees.

Equity investors also tend to be congenital optimists: they may think equities are overvalued, and technology stock in particular, but they remain overweight equities, and technology stocks in particular, because they back their chances of getting out ahead of the crowd when things start to turn.

They can’t all be right, of course.

Source: www.businesslive.co.za

Moody’s deals SA another blow

Moody’s has downgraded the credit ratings of South Africa’s top five banks, three development finance institutions, certain City Power and Sanral credit ratings, and 10 regional and local governments.

In addition, the company downgraded Eskom, Sasol, MTN, ACSA and eight other South African corporates.

The downgrades follow “the weakening of the South African government’s credit profile”, it said in a statement on Monday after the markets closed.

On Friday, rating agency Moody’s downgraded both South Africa’s local and foreign currency rating to Baa3 from Baa2 and maintained a negative outlook.

The five banks – Standard Bank, FirstRand, Absa, Nedbank and Investec – have now all been downgraded to the same level as the country with the same negative outlook.

Reacting to the latest downgrades, Democratic Alliance finance spokesperson David Maynier told Fin24 that “the negative effects of President Jacob Zuma’s ‘midnight cabinet reshuffle’ are spreading like a disease throughout the economy and have now resulted in the downgrade of the five largest banks in SA”.

The rand was not affected by the downgrades and was trading 0.92% stronger against the dollar at 20:40 on Monday. The banks had mixed runs by the close of business and before the Moody’s announcement. Barclays Africa (Absa) was up 1.71%, Nedbank was down 1.95%, Standard Bank was up 0.77%, FirstRand (FNB) was up 0.7% and Investec was down 0.68%.

Regarding the development finance institutions, Moody’s downgraded the long-term foreign-currency issuer ratings of the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC) and the long term local- and foreign-currency issuer ratings of the Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa (Land Bank) to Baa3 from Baa2.

Land Bank’s local- and foreign-currency and DBSA’s foreign-currency short-term issuer ratings were also downgraded to Prime-3 from Prime-2. The outlook on all long-term global scale ratings is negative. At the same time, the rating agency affirmed the Aa1.za/P-1.za national-scale issuer ratings (NSRs) assigned to DBSA and Land Bank.

Regarding the downgrading of the banks, Moody’s said the primary driver is the challenging operating environment in South Africa, characterised by a pronounced economic slowdown, and weakening institutional strength that has led Moody’s to lower South Africa’s macro profile score to “moderate-” from “moderate”.

“The lower macro profile exerts pressure on the individual factors on banks’ scorecards, and implies that the country’s banks need stronger loss-absorption and liquidity buffers to withstand the headwinds and in order to remain at the same rating levels,” it said.

“The rating agency expects GDP growth of only 0.8% in 2017 and 1.5% in 2018, from 0.3% in 2016, levels significantly below the government’s target growth.

“These challenging economic conditions, combined with potentially weaker investor confidence, volatility in asset prices, and higher funding costs will likely pressure banks’ earnings and asset quality metrics going forward, and challenge their resilient financial performance so far.

“In addition, the banks’ high sovereign exposure, mainly in the form of government debt securities held as part of their liquid assets requirement, links their credit profile to that of the government. The top five banks’ overall sovereign exposure, including loans to state-related entities, averages more than 150% of their capital bases, according to South African Reserve Bank’s regulatory returns as of March 2017.”

List of 13 South African sub-sovereigns that were affected (including Sanral and City Power):

Downgrades

Issuer: City Power Johannesburg

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Baa3 from Baa2

Issuer: East Rand Water Care Company

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Ba1 from Baa3

Issuer: The South African National Roads Ag Ltd

ST Issuer Rating, Downgraded to NP from P-3

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Ba1 from Baa3

Issuer: District Municipality of Amathole

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Ba2 from Ba1

Issuer: Municipality of Breede Valley

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Ba2 from Ba1

Issuer: City of Cape Town

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Baa3 from Baa2

ST Issuer Rating, Downgraded to P-3 from P-2

Senior unsecured MTN, Downgraded to (P)Baa3 from (P)Baa2

Senior Unsecured Regular Bond/Debenture, Downgraded to Baa3 from Baa2

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality of Ekurhuleni

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Baa3 from Baa2

ST Issuer Rating, Downgraded to P-3 from P-2

Senior Unsecured MTN, Downgraded to (P)Baa3 from (P)Baa2

Senior Unsecured Regular Bond/Debenture, Downgraded to Baa3 from Baa2

Issuer: City of Johannesburg

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Baa3 from Baa2

ST Issuer Rating, Downgraded to P-3 from P-2

Senior Unsecured MTN, Downgraded to (P)Baa3 from (P)Baa2

Senior Unsecured Regular Bond/Debenture, Downgraded to Baa3 from Baa2

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality Mangaung

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Ba2 from Ba1

Issuer: Municipality of Mbombela

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Ba2 from Ba1

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality Nelson Mandela

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Baa3 from Baa2

Issuer: Municipality of Rustenburg

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Ba2 from Ba1

Issuer: City of Tshwane

LT Issuer Rating, Downgraded to Ba2 from Ba1
Affirmations

Issuer: City Power Johannesburg

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed Aa1za

Issuer: East Rand Water Care Company

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed Aa3za

Issuer: The South African National Roads Ag Ltd

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed Aa3za

ST Issuer Rating, Affirmed P-1za

Issuer: District Municipality of Amathole

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed A2za

Issuer: Municipality of Bergrivier

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed Ba3

Issuer: Municipality of Breede Valley

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed A2za

ST Issuer Rating, Affirmed P-1za

Issuer: City of Cape Town

ST Issuer Rating, Affirmed P-1za

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed Aaaza

Senior unsecured MTN, Affirmed Aaaza

Senior Unsecured Regular Bond/Debenture, Affirmed Aaaza

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality of Ekurhuleni

ST Issuer Rating, Affirmed P-1za

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed Aaaza

Senior Unsecured MTN, Affirmed Aaaza

Senior Unsecured Regular Bond/Debenture, Affirmed Aaaza

Issuer: City of Johannesburg

ST Issuer Rating Affirmed P-1za

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed Aa1za

Senior Unsecured MTN, Affirmed Aa1za

Senior Unsecured Regular Bond/Debenture, Affirmed Aa1za

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality Mangaung

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed A1za

ST Issuer Rating, Affirmed P-1za

Issuer: Municipality of Mbombela

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed A2za

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality Nelson Mandela

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed Aa1za

Issuer: Municipality of Rustenburg

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed A1za

Issuer: City of Tshwane

LT Issuer Rating, Affirmed A1za

ST Issuer Rating, Affirmed P-1za
Upgrades

Issuer: Municipality of Bergrivier

LT Issuer Rating, Upgraded to Baa1za from Baa2za

ST Issuer Rating, Upgraded to P-2za from P-3za

Outlook Actions:

Issuer: City Power Johannesburg

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: East Rand Water Care Company

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: The South African National Roads Ag Ltd

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: District Municipality of Amathole

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: Municipality of Bergrivier

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Stable

Issuer: Municipality of Breede Valley

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: City of Cape Town

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality of Ekurhuleni

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: City of Johannesburg

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality Mangaung

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: Municipality of Mbombela

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality Nelson Mandela

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: Municipality of Rustenburg

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Issuer: City of Tshwane

Outlook, Changed To Negative From Rating Under Review

Ratings not affected:

Issuer: City of Tshwane

ST Issuer Rating, NP

Issuer: Metropolitan Municipality Mangaung

ST Issuer Rating, NP

Issuer: Municipality of Breede Valley

ST Issuer Rating, NP

Issuer: Municipality of Bergrivier

ST Issuer Rating, NP

By Matthew le Cordeur for Fin24

 

South Africa enters a recession

Gross domestic product contracted 0.7% for the first quarter of 2017, indicating that the country has entered into a recession, according to deputy director general of Economic Statistics at Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) Joe de Beer.

The latest GDP data was released by Stats SA on Tuesday.

For South Africans, this means:

  • The value of the rand is weaker, driving the price of commodities and imports up

  • Food and petrol prices are likely to increase

  • Foreign investment will slow

  • Local job creation will slow

  • The unemployment rate will continue to rise as companies contract and lay people off

The contraction follows the GDP decline of 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2016. In 2016, the economy grew only 0.3% for the year.

Compared to the previous year, GDP growth came to 1%. “Over the last four years there were instances of negative economic growth prior to the last two quarters,” said De Beer.

The main contributors to the contraction were the trade and manufacturing industries. Trade declined 5.9% and manufacturing contracted 3.7%.

The agriculture and mining industries were the only sectors which made positive contributions. Agriculture increased growth by 22.2% on the back of the drought recovery, and mining grew by 12.8%.

However, expenditure on GDP contracted by 0.8% in the first quarter.

Household consumption declined 2.3%, with spend of food and non-alcoholic beverages, clothing and footware and transport the major contributors to negative growth.

Gross fixed capital formation grew by 1%, mainly due to machinery and equipment which grew by 7.9%.

Net exports contributed negatively to growth and expenditure on GDP, while goods and services contributed negatively to growth in exports. Exports of mineral products and vehicles and transport equipment were largely responsible for the decrease in goods, according to Stats SA.

Imports, which increased 3.2%, were driven by imports of mineral products.

Government consumption expenditure contracted 1%.

Recently the World Bank projected low growth for the following two years. The World Bank expects growth of 0.6% for 2017, 1.1% for 2018 and 2% for 2019. The projections for 2017 and 2018 are 0.5 and 0.7 percentage points less respectively than its January 2017 figures, Fin24 reported. data

The Reserve Bank also revised down growth forecasts. At the monetary policy committee rates announcement in May, Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago said political tensions and the sovereign downgrades to junk status have presented risks to growth.

The Reserve Bank’s growth forecast for 2017 is now 1%, down from 1.2%. Growth projections for 2018 were cut down from 1.7% to 1.5%. Similarly, the 2% growth forecast for 2019 was revised to 1.7%.

At its recent credit review, ratings agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) emphasised that low growth remained a concern. S&P explained political risks would weigh heavily on growth priorities and this would slow fiscal consolidation.

“We believe the current political environment could result in the private sector delaying business investment decisions, thereby restraining GDP growth,” said S&P.

S&P projects growth to rebound to 1% in 2017 and average at 1.5% between 2017 and 2020.

By Lameez Omarjeev for News24

Rand yo-yos as Zuma survives chopping block

Markets have reacted to events at the African National Congress National Executive Committee meeting in Johannesburg over the weekend.

The rand gained considerable strength when news emerged that a vote of no confidence had been tabled.

But it quickly retreated when the motion failed.

Economist Dawie Roodt says the rand is inextricably linked with President Jacob Zuma’s fate.

“It is interesting to watch financial markets because quite often, one can actually see how Jacob Zuma is doing by simply watching the exchange rate of the country.

“What has happened though over the weekend, as soon as it became clear that there would be a debate on the future of Zuma, the rand actually appreciates very strongly against most other currencies.”

Meanwhile, Zuma has come out swinging following the failure of a motion of no confidence in him.

The motion was tabled at the ANC NEC meeting over the weekend.

It failed to garner the necessary support to carry.

Zuma attacked his critics in the NEC in his closing address, saying he knows those who want him to step down are pushing an agenda of foreign forces and he’s warned them to stop.

Three sources in the ANC NEC have told Eyewitness News that Zuma was hard-hitting and furious when he gave his closing remarks at the NEC meeting, responding to those who called on him to step down.

It is understood that the president told the NEC meeting that those who wanted him to resign are pushing an agenda of foreign forces.

The sources say the furious president told the meeting that he was poisoned with the intention of being killed and warned that he knows who is plotting against him and where they get the money from.

It’s understood he also told the meeting that he can’t be blamed for the party’s loss of key metros, saying it was the ANC’s failure to manage regional dynamics that resulted in the poor showing at last year’s polls.

By Clement Manyathela for www.ewn.co.za

South Africa’s tough retail environment ate into Mr Price earnings over the past year, as consumers kept a firm hold on their wallets due to the current economic climate.

The group on Tuesday reported a decrease of 10.4% in its diluted headline earnings for the year to 1 April 2017 compared to the previous year.

Mr Price’s poor year corresponded with competitors Truworths, Woolworths and Foschini’s weak sales numbers, highlighting the struggles of the sector.

“This was the group’s first earnings decrease in 16 years during a very difficult trading period,” said CEO Stuart Bird.

Total revenue rose 0.7% to R19.8bn, with retail sales decreasing 0.5% to R18.6bn.

The results were not unexpected, as the Durban-based retailer’s pre-Christmas performance had been dismal. Mr Price attributed the losses at the time due to last year’s unseasonably warm winter as well as promotional markdowns by competitors to clear stock. Foreign retailers such as H&M and Cotton On also ate into the retailer’s market share.

Despite its retail woes Mr Price remained cash generative, providing a good return on average equity to shareholders. Free cash flow increased 131% to R1.8bn and cash resources at period end were R1.8bn. The annual dividend per share stayed at 667c, with the final dividend of 438.8c per share up 4.7%.

Annual dividends of the group have not declined in the last 31 years.

The group said its cash-based business model has enabled it to maintain its dividend track record. It also used the model to fund capital expenditure of R2bn in the last two years to build the necessary infrastructure to support growth plans.

The no-frills retailer said the year proved to be exceptionally challenging for the retail sector.

“Consumer confidence remained low as a result of the poor state of the local economy and a lack of faith in the current political leadership’s ability to set high standards of governance and deliver inclusive growth.”

It also blamed the Cabinet reshuffle and credit ratings downgrades for causing exchange rate volatility, which led to higher prices the consumer ultimately had to absorb.

“As a result, the retail environment has become more competitive, with any growth in a stagnant market coming from increased market share,” Mr Price said.

“This has led to retailers in our sector increasing their promotional activity to drive sales and manage stock levels.”

The merchandise gross profit margin decreased by 1.3% to 40.6%, mainly due to higher markdowns in MRP Apparel, the group’s largest chain. The apparel division, which accounts for around 70% of group sales, has struggled to attract sales.

However Mr Price’s sales growth in the fourth quarter improved, buoyed by sales in the Easter school holidays. Local online sales also continued to perform well and were 13.0% higher than last year.

MRP Sport increased its sales by 7.7% to R1.4bn, performing strongly in the first half with sales gaining 13.3%.

Mr Price singled out MRP Apparel and Miladys as its underperforming units, but added that the new financial year presented new hope, with the best sales performances coming from these two units.

MRP Apparel’s performance, with a decline in operating profits, was an especial cause for concern with sales of R10.9bn 1.7% lower. In the first quarter its product offerings did not resonate with customers, Mr Price said.

Miladys sales of R1.3bn were 5.3% lower. Operating profit increased in the second half, but fell on an annual basis despite a higher gross profit percentage and good cost control.

Although there was limited overhead growth below the inflation rate, it was not sufficient to counter the decline in sales and gross profit.

The retailer said any improvement in the consumer environment is likely to be gradual. Its recovery plans centres on regaining its lost market share, which it believes is the most significant near-term opportunity.

Mr Price’s share price jumped 5.28% to R153.91 at 11:20 on the JSE.

By Yolandi Groenewald for Fin24

Rand weakens in volatile trade

The rand was slightly weaker against the dollar on Tuesday afternoon, in volatile trade.

The local currency weakened to R13.71 to the dollar in earlier sessions, but improved to R13.58 in intraday trade.

Local political uncertainty and a ratings review by ratings agency Moody’s were the main risks the rand was facing.

In April‚ Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings downgraded SA’s debt to “junk” status after President Jacob Zuma fired Pravin Gordhan as the finance minister in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Moody’s was expected to visit SA in May, before announcing its country rating in the weeks thereafter.

At 3.33pm‚ the rand was at R13.6367 to the dollar from Monday’s R13.6135‚ at R14.8489 to the euro from R14.8805 and at R17.6230 to pound from R17.6191.

The euro was at $1.0889 from $1.0931.

By Reitumetse Pitso for www.businesslive.co.za

SA extends trade surplus

South Africa recorded an R11,4-billion trade surplus in March, continuing the trend of strong net inflows into SA.
The rand closed weaker on Friday despite the surplus, as fears mounted of a US Government shutdown.

As expected, US lawmakers reached a $1-trillion budget deal, which will keep the economy ticking until September.

The agreement should give the rand breathing room for strength today. It’s a busy 4-day week, with the US Fed statement and local manufacturing data out tomorrow and US job numbers the highlight out on Friday.

The mystery of the rallying rand 

After then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was axed in December 2015, the rand weakened dramatically. This time around, however, despite the even worse news of Pravin Gordhan’s axing and SA’s downgrade to junk status, the rand has proved remarkably resilient.
How do we square this? Are the markets getting so used to bad news coming out of SA that they have stopped reacting to it? Or is there some other factor at play?
Before President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle on March 30 the rand was trading at R12.40/$. In the following two weeks it weakened by roughly R1.50 against the dollar. But at the time of writing, it had reversed almost one-third of its losses, firming by 50c to trade at R13.40/$.

What is evident is that the local news flow — dominated by mass protests against Zuma and a growing clamour for his resignation — certainly doesn’t justify the biggest rand rally in six months.
“Total rand losses of a mere R1 seem remarkably limited given all that has happened,” says Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) currency strategist John Cairns.
Dollar weakness and better Chinese trade data appear to have triggered the latest rand gains, but far more interesting is the currency’s longer-term outlook.
Surprisingly, given how much SA’s prospects have darkened, Cairns has not downgraded his rand forecast of R13/$ for the year end. Of course, the situation remains in flux and RMB could still change its rand forecast. But for now, Cairns says there are two positive factors RMB believes might offset the negatives.
First is the significant narrowing of SA’s current account deficit. This has been caused mainly by slowing imports due to falling domestic demand and firmer exports following the recovery in commodity prices.
RMB expects the deficit to average 2.8% this year compared with an average of 3.3% in 2016 and 4.4% in 2015. This will take significant pressure off the rand.
Second, a more positive growth outlook in advanced economies has contributed to a more favourable environment for emerging markets and commodity currencies as a whole. As a result, foreign capital inflows into SA’s bond market have held up remarkably well.
The favourable external backdrop helps to explain why the market reaction to SA’s recent downgrades has been more benign than experienced by other countries when they lost their investment-grade status.
“We continue to feel that the external backdrop is restricting far bigger losses on our local markets,” says Cairns, “It seems a rising tide lifts even half-submerged boats.”
Efficient Group chief economist Dawie Roodt is also sticking to his year-end rand forecast of R13/$.
Both Roodt and Cairns are assuming that Zuma will stay on as president this year and that there will be no further dramatic political negatives or further downgrades to SA’s local currency rating.

Like Cairns, Roodt made this forecast many months before Zuma reshuffled his cabinet and caused many to wonder if SA’s democratic project had permanently run aground. So the fact that he hasn’t lowered his forecast also bears scrutiny.
Roodt has a remarkably successful track record in correctly predicting the rand, having won the 2016 Sake24 economist of the year award for the accuracy of his forecasting against that of more than 30 other economists.
His forecast that the currency would average R13/$ in the final quarter of 2015 was the closest to the actual figure of R13.09/$.
Roodt looks set to be closest to the pin again this year, with a forecast of R14/$ for the final quarter of 2016 compared with the actual figure of R13.91/$.
In January 2016, when he made this forecast, the rand rose to a new record high of almost R18/$ during intraday trading as the markets battled to digest the axing of Nene.
“Everyone said I was crazy,” chuckles Roodt. “Some said the rand would be R20/$ by the year end.”
He bases his rand forecasts on the observation that on a 35-year view (1980-2015), the rand has on average been roughly 50% undervalued against the US dollar on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis (see graph).
The easiest way to understand the theory of PPP is to use The Economist’s Big Mac index. It was invented as a light-hearted tool to make it easier to compare the misalignment of exchange rates between countries. It was never intended as a precise gauge, explains the magazine, but rather a fun way of explaining PPP.
In January 2017, the price of a Big Mac burger in the US was $5.06. In SA it was R26.32. At the prevailing exchange rate of R13.95/$ at the time, a Big Mac in SA cost only $1.89.
So according to the “raw” Big Mac index, the rand was undervalued by almost 63% against the US dollar on a PPP basis.
This made the rand the fourth most undervalued currency against the US dollar among 44 countries surveyed, after Malaysia (64.6% undervalued), the Ukraine (-69.5%) and Egypt (-71.1%)
Roodt bases his study of PPP not just on the Big Mac, but on a more representative basket of goods published as a series by Oxford Economics, one of the world’s largest data providers.
By this yardstick, the rand at R13/$ would be 54% undervalued, making Roodt fairly confident the currency will move back towards this level over time.
“I’m pretty sure the rand will come back. It always does, very strongly, but it never resets to purchasing power parity. It is always about 50% undervalued on average. So if it stays at R14/$, and inflation remains where it is now, then this would be an exception,” says Roodt.
Roodt, in fact, considers the rand at R14/$ to be a “screaming buy”, given that SA’s 10-year bond yield is highly attractive at 9% and that SA’s bond market is exceptionally liquid and well-integrated, so investors can get out quickly.
“Where can you get such an attractive yield with an undervalued currency at the same time?” he asks.
This explains foreign investors’ continued appetite for SA bonds, despite the highly uncertain political environment.
Based on Roodt’s PPP estimates, the rand has fared remarkably well during the current crisis compared with previous episodes.
In nominal terms, the rand dropped by just 12% in the first two weeks after Gordhan’s axing before pulling back sharply. In PPP terms the rand at its recent worst of R13.95/$ was just 56% weaker than parity.
By comparison, in 1985 after then president PW Botha’s famous “Rubicon” speech, in which he failed to announce the dismantling of apartheid, the rand nose-dived by 66% in nominal terms. It was the sharpest nominal decline in the history of the currency.
At its worst, the rand was 72% undervalued against the dollar but it recovered shortly thereafter, mostly because inflation accelerated.
During the 2002 rand crisis, contagion from the Asian financial crisis caused the rand to collapse by 47% in nominal terms. It reached an undervaluation low of 73% but again bounced back quickly, mostly because of a nominal exchange-rate correction, helped by some inflation.
The rand suffered another huge blow when Nene was axed. At its worst level of R18/$ it was 69% weaker than parity. The reasons for the rand’s fall were mostly political but, unlike now, unfavourable international forces were also at play.
At the time, fears were growing that China was heading for a hard landing. The deteriorating growth prospects of emerging markets, particularly for commodity-producing countries such as SA, caused persistent capital outflows from these markets.
Had the same global conditions been in place now, there is little doubt that the fallout from Gordhan’s axing and SA’s downgrade to junk would have been far more severe. This doesn’t mean the political and economic implications aren’t deeply worrying — only that Zuma’s timing was excellent.

By Claire Bisseker for www.businessday.co.za

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