Tag: economy

Tech costs ‘likely to rise’ in SA

Information technology (IT) hardware is likely to become more expensive in SA because of the weak economy and rand, according to Mark Walker, associate vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa at the International Data Corporation.

“SA is looking at a growth rate of 0.7% to 1.5% [in 2018]. Many organisations are pricing this weak economy into their discussions as it means that hardware and imported equipment will be more expensive.

“There are also murmurs around adding VAT to petrol and potential increases in taxes, so the technology sector could very well be an easy target from a tax point of view.”

As a result, IT was expected to become more expensive, particularly hardware, and this was likely to prompt “an acceleration into cloud-based computing”, Walker said.

Further, if the outcome of the ANC’s elective conference was not well received, the market would weaken further and this would further fuel the rise in IT costs.

Innovation and investment could be affected by the lacklustre economy, he said. “We have started seeing a trend emerge where you have individuals and organisations innovating locally, but then taking those ideas overseas because they are not able to unlock investment in the local market.”

However, a favourable elective conference outcome would be a boon for the local IT sector.

“The perception that SA is back on track could herald in a period of release of pent-up demand, investment spend on innovation and rolling out the infrastructure to enable broadband in rural areas, fibre and others that SA gravely needs.”

Source: eNCA

How the world sees South Africa

South Africa dodged a bullet when credit ratings agency Moody’s Investor Services put the country on review for a downgrade rather than reducing its status, as rival agency S&P and Fitch did, notes London-headquartered global newspaper, the Financial Times.

This four-month reprieve creates an opportunity for the South African government to send a signal to the international community that it will undertake a political and economic overhaul. International investors are asking why Moody’s rates South Africa more favourably than Argentina and Ukraine, which both have reform programmes. Yields on South African bonds reflect the assumption that a Moody’s downgrade is on the way.

The South African government and investors may think none of this matters, with bonds and the currency recovering after former finance minister Pravin Gordhan was fired. But look beyond the short term opportunities to buy, as respected economist Dr Azar Jammine of Econometrix has, and it is evident that the S&P and Fitch teams have given up on South Africa for now.

The outcome of the credit ratings reviews by S&P and Moody’s revealed a mixed result. S&P did indeed downgrade the credit rating on South Africa’s local currency debt to junk status, but Moody’s has deferred its decision to do so until after next year’s Budget. As a result, the worst-case scenario of South Africa falling out of key world government bond indices in such a way as to precipitate a huge outflow of capital from sales of domestic bonds, has been averted for the present. The earliest date at which such an outcome can now materialise is March next year.

Essentially, S&P has given up on South Africa being able to restore its fiscal strength and promote higher economic growth over the next few years, whereas Moody’s seems to have given the government an urgent opportunity to undertake the structural reforms needed to promote higher economic growth and alleviate the fiscal deterioration. The latter rating agency also seems to give greater credence to the importance of having deep financial markets, a stable and sound banking system, a solid spread of maturities for government debt, as well as deriving the benefits of having a freely floating exchange rate and democratically-oriented institutions. S&P in contrast has taken the view that irrespective of the ANC’s presidential electoral outcome, there are likely to be huge impediments to undertaking reforms that might improve the economic growth and fiscal outlooks.
The uncertainty surrounding the possibility of further credit ratings downgrades and South Africa falling out of world government bond indices, therefore remains in place. In such a situation, the Rand is likely to remain under pressure, but not to collapse. The one ray of hope that we see is that real economic growth might surprise on the upside and as a consequence could serve to prevent the worst-case scenario materialising in 2018.
Both views on credit ratings downgrades have been partially vindicated

Clients will be aware of the uncertainty with which we have been looking ahead for several months at the S&P and Moody’s credit ratings and reviews which were due to be released on November 24th. Over this period we were arguing that there was a very high probability of the credit rating on S&P and Moody’s local currency debt ratings being downgraded to junk. However, we were uncertain as to whether or not these ratings agencies would give the country the benefit of the doubt and wait to see what panned out in the ANC’s electoral conference in December and the subsequent policy adjustments that this might bring forth, before taking the final action in downgrading. We had argued that ratings agencies that had already placed the outlook on South Africa’s credit rating to negative, had 12 months in which to either go ahead with a downgrade or restore a stable outlook.

This meant that S&P had until April to make up its mind and Moody’s until June. In the event, S&P seems to have decided that there is no point in holding off a ratings downgrade to junk despite not yet knowing for certain what the outcome of the ANC’s electoral conference might bring, whilst Moody’s has decided instead to place the country’s rating on review. It has been fairly transparent in suggesting that it wishes to see what the electoral outcome might be and subsequently to wait to see what measures are announced in the February 2018 Budget before deciding whether to join S&P in downgrading South Africa’s local currency debt.

As we have frequently argued, a junk status rating for local currency debt by both the S&P and Moody’s would precipitate South African government bonds having to fall out of key world government bond indices. Such an event would lead to tracker funds which base their asset allocation on the breakdown of the various world government bond indices being driven to sell out of South African government bonds.

The resultant outflow of funds could amount to over R100bn, or even R150bn, leading to a rapid depreciation of the Rand’s exchange rate, with inflationary consequences and potential upward pressure on interest rates. This could damage economic growth still further, thus exacerbating the ability to raise sufficient government revenue to reduce the budget deficit and constrain the increase in the public debt.

S&P has given up hope of an early restoration of fiscal strength, Moody’s hasn’t

On Thursday last week Fitch credit ratings agency had left its credit ratings at one notch below investment grade (ie the best junk rate rating) in respect of both foreign currency debt and local currency debt. Encouragingly, however, it maintained the stable outlook assigned to South Africa’s credit ratings. In the case of S&P, it maintained the one notch differential between the rating of foreign and local currency debt even while reducing the rating on local currency debt to junk status.

This meant revising down its rating on South Africa’s foreign currency debt to two notches below investment grade, thus allocating the worst rating of all to this form of South Africa’s credit rating. On the other hand, so long as Moody’s persists with keeping South Africa on review rather than going ahead with a further downgrade, its rating on both local and foreign currency debt remains at the lowest rung of investment grade just above junk status. The difference between S&P and Moody’s in deciding whether or not to go ahead with downgrading South Africa’s debt to junk status lies in the fact that S&P appears to have given up even bothering to wait until the outcome of the ANC’s electoral conference before going ahead with its decision.

Essentially, S&P has decided that no matter what the outcome of the presidential election, South Africa is going to struggle to restore the strength of its fiscal position. In the case of all three ratings agencies, three main problems manifest in South Africa’s fiscal situation. Firstly, because of the low rate of economic growth and the downward revisions of growth forecasts over the past year, including by all three ratings agencies, the projected growth in government revenue is just too low to accommodate a reduction in the budget deficit in the face of difficulty in reducing government expenditure due to social pressures. Secondly, there is deep concern about the possible liability for government emanating from poor corporate governance and low or negative returns at state-owned enterprises (SOEs). This might exert further upward pressure on South Africa’s debt metrics should guarantees granted to the SOEs by government be called up.

Thirdly, worries continue that economic growth remains unacceptably low and that under such circumstances fiscal consolidation requires dramatic action to curtail expenditure, a required development which is unlikely to be forthcoming. The difference between S&P and Moody’s is that the former believes that no matter what the electoral outcome in December, whoever succeeds president Zuma as leader of the ANC will be unable to effect structural changes to ameliorate the country’s fiscal situation for a long while.

In contrast, Moody’s suggests that if it sees sufficient action to address structural weaknesses in the economy being taken by a new leadership in the aftermath of such an electoral outcome, it might yet hold off a downgrade to junk. In this regard, the forthcoming February 2018 Budget is obviously perceived by the agency as being the litmus test of required action to improve the fiscal situation. Clearly, the agency is still providing a ray of hope that an appropriate new leader of the ANC will bring about changes in the structure of the economy and manifest the intention to effect such changes in next year’s Budget in such a way as to give a renewed sense of hope that some action is being taken to prevent the public debt from getting out of hand.

Several negative structural features identified by S&P

Similar structural weaknesses in the South African economy are identified by all three credit ratings agencies. The aspect of unacceptably low economic growth goes without saying. S&P picks up on this by arguing correctly that capital investment remains unacceptably low and this is likely to constrain an improvement in economic growth in the longer term. It argues further that even though there have been encouraging signs of an improvement in the country’s trade balance, this has less to do with increased competitiveness from an export point of view and more to do with an unwillingness to increase capital investment, leading to a lower rate of growth in imports of capital equipment.

In other words, the improvement in the balance of trade and a reduction in the current account deficit are a function of economic weakness rather than strength. Part of the reason also why S&P seems to have given up on South Africa’s being able to address its structural weaknesses, lies with the labour market situation. Clearly S&P does not foresee any major amelioration in the standoff between the stance of employers and that of workers in the economy, no matter who leads the country. One reads into the agency’s stance a perception of the ideological divide between market-friendly and interventionist policies persisting.

Finally, S&P highlights the difference between South Africa and other emerging markets in tackling inequality. It argues that whereas other similar countries have made some inroads into reducing inequality, this is not the case with South Africa where such inequality has been exacerbated. We have frequently suggested that the causes of this lie in the very poor outcomes of the domestic educational system which leaves such a high proportion of the workforce unable to command a job, or alternatively not to be able to perform a job that adds sufficient value to accommodate remuneration of a level that will allow for reduced inequality. Furthermore, the concentrated structure of the private sector, with so much power residing in the hands of big rather than small business, also constrains the ability of the economy to reduce inequality.

Fortunately, some positive structural attributes re-emphasised by Moody’s

On the other hand, as was the case with Fitch’s credit rating review on Thursday, Moody’s did at least re-emphasise some of the positive features of the South African economy which still justify an investment grade rating.

These include the depth of its financial markets, the strength of its banks, the well-diversified maturity spread of its government debt, as well as the fact that the country operates on a flexible exchange rate regime which can insulate the economy from the worst ravages of exchange rate depreciation.

Moody’s also draws attention to the ongoing strength of many of the country’s institutions such as the judiciary and other vibrant democratic non-governmental organisations. The presence of such institutions provides it with confidence that the country can indeed tackle its fiscal challenges under the right circumstances. In the case of S&P, even though the organisation acknowledges the persistence of institutional strength, it nonetheless points out various areas of deterioration in this attribute.

The most important of these is the manner in which S&P expresses its alarm at the deterioration of the ability of the South African Revenue Services to collect taxes. Nonetheless, one derives some encouragement from the fact that the credit ratings agencies are still prepared to acknowledge some residual strengths in the economy. The most important of these would appear to be the ongoing independence of the Reserve Bank in the implementation of monetary policy, something which is not prevalent in many other emerging markets.

Uncertainty to continue prevailing, but with a strong message to forthcoming president of the ANC

The mixed nature of the credit ratings reviews by S&P and Moody’s unfortunately leaves continued uncertainty in the outlook for the country’s credit ratings and through this for financial markets in the next few months.

This is not disastrous and has at least allayed the worst-case scenario for the present, but can unfortunately not eliminate the possibility of such a scenario still materialising through the course of 2018. As a result, it is unlikely that the Rand can make significant gains in coming months. Instead, the currency might experience a continuation of bouts of significant weakness as some bondholders increasingly anticipate the country’s bonds having to fallout of world government bond indices.

Essentially, it suggests that the Rand will trade somewhere between R14 and R15 over the next few months, without eliminating the possibility of a much more substantial depreciation in the event that Moody’s does go ahead with downgrading the country’s local currency credit rating in March. Under such circumstances, there is little chance of domestic interest rate relief, but at least it does mean that the Reserve Bank will be reticent to increase interest rates.

What if economic growth does turn out to be stronger than previously anticipated?

There is a final point worth making on a more positive note. In recent weeks and months we have increasingly pointed to the possibility that real economic activity might after all turn out to have been stronger than anticipated.

We have argued that, contrary to the fact that economic growth forecasts have progressively been downgraded in recent years in each important budgetary presentation, it is not inconceivable that for a change we might find a situation in which the government, as well as analysts, begin to revise economic growth forecasts upwards. In their latest credit ratings reviews, all three ratings agencies downgraded their forecasts for South Africa’s economic growth by a good few decimal points for both 2017 and 2018.

We are now increasingly posing the question as to whether or not the 0.6% to 0.7% prevailing forecast for economic growth in 2017 and the 1.0% to 1.2% growth forecasts for 2018, might not turn out to be unduly pessimistic. In the event of this suspicion turning out to have been correct, it is just conceivable that the ratings agencies will recognise that the deterioration in the country’s fiscal situation might not turn out to be as aggressive as currently anticipated. In the case of Moody’s, at the margin, this might assist in the agency staving off downgrading the country’s credit rating to junk in March.

Under such circumstances, the worst-case scenario of South Africa falling out of key world government bond indices might yet be avoided. However, common wisdom suggests that the probability of such a positive outcome is less than 50%.

By Jackie Cameron, Dr Azar Jammine for Biz News 

Do-or-die priorities for SME survival

With 70-80% of SMEs failing within the first five years, and only 1% growing to employ more than 10 people, South African SMEs are struggling to realise their own growth potential and become active drivers of job creation. And with slow economic growth, on-going political uncertainty, and a national budget shortfall of R209-billion, SMEs seeking much-needed funding face a tough time ahead.

Following the crisis at African Bank a few years ago due to non-payment of unsecured loans by its customer base, traditional lenders largely lost their appetite for exposure to unsecured lending. This has left the majority of SMEs without access to funding via traditional banking channels. And where such loans are on offer, the application process is loaded with administrative and bureaucratic red tape that can take more than three months to work through, with no guarantee that the loan will be awarded.

In fact, in our latest survey of South African SMEs, 76% of respondents said they suffered through tedious paperwork and waited for months only to have their applications for funding denied. This is creating an environment of immense risk to SMEs.

The #1 priority for SME success
I believe access to adequate and flexible funding is the number one priority for South African SMEs over the next six months. The results from our survey showed that access to credit is the single biggest business challenge South African SMEs face today, with a further 33% listing cash flow management as a primary challenge.
A deeper look into why SMEs are seeking funding brings further cause for alarm: nearly a quarter of respondents listed “unforeseen circumstances” as their reason for seeking funding. In a time of constrained economic growth and difficult trading conditions, profits are likely minimal, meaning any event causing need for quick access to funding could spell disaster – or even ruin – should the SME not get the funding they need.
To fill the gap left by the big banks’ unwillingness to expose themselves to unsecured business lending, a vibrant ecosystem of innovative fintech companies have emerged. In the Disrupt Africa Finnovating for Africa 2017 report, South Africa was found to be home to 94 fintech start-ups, 22 of which offer some form of lending support. Such tech-first lenders are able to adapt quicker to changing market needs than their big traditional peers, and are playing an increasingly important role in supporting a rather fragile SME sector. And since they are built on technology and unencumbered by legacy systems, this new breed of fintech company can process and award loan applications in a matter of days compared to the 2-3 months traditional lenders such as banks generally demand.

The role of the SME owner in ensuring survival, success
But it’s not all about the banks and lenders: SME owners also need to play a more active role in ensuring their businesses are resilient enough to withstand times of hardship. Many SMEs lack basic accounting and administrative processes, leaving SME owners blind to potential weak spots or areas of opportunity.
Successful entrepreneurs are able to take calculated risks to accelerate their growth and expand into new markets, but without a solid understanding of the current state of their business, any risk they take is potentially ruinous. A lack of adequate financial reporting also limits SMEs’ ability to apply for and secure funding,

Technology as enabler
Technology can provide support to SMEs wishing to strengthen their administrative and operational processes. Even competent use of something as basic as Excel could give SME owners much-needed insight into the state of their businesses. Online accounting software such as Xero gives SMEs enormous authority over their finances and helps business owners plan and strategise more effectively. In a do-or-die environment such as the one we currently find ourselves in, every slight advantage could mean the difference between success and failure, survival or bankruptcy.
SMEs should prioritise marketing their business effectively. In fact, 47% of respondents in our survey listed marketing as the biggest potential factor in growing sales and revenue, and yet only a third had a marketing budget. Technology can provide cost effective marketing opportunities to SMEs and assist with reaching and influencing key stakeholders. Google AdWords, social media profiles, LinkedIn groups, and even a basic website not only increases the SME’s exposure in the market, but also gives potential lenders comfort that the business is well-supported and in a healthy state.

Entrepreneurs should also seek membership of relevant associations and industry bodies to get access not only to other businesses and business owners, but to draw on the knowledge and research capacity most such associations and industry bodies produce. The better a SME owner’s knowledge of the market in which he or she operates, the better they are able to adapt to changes and ensure the long-term sustainability of their businesses.

Partner, and partner well
Partners can play a vital role in supporting and driving business growth in the SME sector. Whether it is an equity partner providing much needed financing during the early stages of a business, or a business partner that provides goods or services that are complementary to an SME’s core business, effective partnership is essential for long-term business sustainability.
SME owners should however take care to ensure the partner shares similar values and ethics, and strive toward building long-term trust with a view to ensuring mutual benefit between the two businesses. Our philosophy is to seek SMEs that share our passion for sustainable business growth, and to build a long-term partnership that enables us to provide on-going lending support through various growth stages.
In our current economic climate, a go-it-alone, shoot-from-the-hip approach is a recipe for disaster. SME owners should prioritise gaining access to funding, improving their financial and administrative processes, expand their marketing efforts, and seek appropriate partnerships to ensure they continue to survive and thrive.

By Trevor Gosling, CEO of Lulalend

How businesses contribute to SA

A report by Quantec Research, a leading South African economic consultancy, on Monday revealed the significant contribution made by South African business to the wealth of the country. The report notes, amongst other things, the significant contribution of business to the South African economy.

The study was commissioned earlier this year by Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) to better understand the national footprint of its membership. Quantec Research was asked to conduct empirical research on the scope and magnitude of BLSA’s members’ activities and their contribution to the economy.

The study revealed several striking findings over the role of business in society; business is the most significant direct contributor to the South African economy. The direct output created by BLSA members was R1.9 trillion in 2016; 1.2 times the value of total budgeted expenditure by government in 2016.

Nearly R1 trillion in expenditure was paid to suppliers, enabling them to employ people, pay taxes, purchase supplies and make investments. BLSA collectively received 34.4 points out of 40 for black enterprise development as prescribed by BEE Codes.

Business employs 6.9 times the number of public sector employees. BLSA members themselves employ 1.29 million people, with another 1.97 million jobs supported in the supply chain. 596,719 people are dependent on BLSA employees. The 57 member companies in the study contribute 23.5% of total private sector employment, and pay full-time and part-time employees just under R2 trillion.

Business contributes to the public sector and supports the most important institutions of state through taxation. Taxation to government from BLSA members alone amounted to over R431 billion in 2016, 35.9% of total taxes collected. That’s the equivalent of more than one million teacher’s salaries, or almost two million police officers, or almost 1.5 million low-cost housing units.

Bonang Mohale, Chief Executive of BLSA, commenting on the findings of the report said: “This report confirms that business is a vibrant part of South African economy and society and a significant national asset. The footprint of BLSA’s members alone is notable – often bigger than that of Government itself. It’s a reminder that business touches every part of South African life and has a positive role and voice to play in the success of the nation.”

Source: IOL 

Takealot is preparing for a massive Black Friday sale

Online retailer Takealot says that its 2017 Black Friday sale will be the biggest its ever had, with almost every product category on the site expected to host sales.

According to CEO, Kim Reid, over 15,000 products will be discounted starting on 24 November, with the majority seeing up 60% off the normal price tag, and some prices going as low as 70% and 80% off.

The retailer has dubbed its Black Friday weekend sale as the Blue Dot Sale, which will run for five days: from Black Friday on 24 November, through the weekend to Cyber Monday on 27 November. The retailer said it will then follow up with Takealot Tuesday on the 28th.

Noting a big rise in the number of mobile users, Reid said that Takealot would start with Black Friday deals earlier – from 20 November – with app-only exclusive deals.

Despite the struggling economy, and the tough year seen in 2017, Reid said that the company has not seen much of a slowdown during the year, and is only expecting volumes to increase over Black Friday and into the festive period.

The group said it expects volumes to increase by 50% compared to 2016, where sales reached R56 million. Black Friday has seen enormous growth in popularity in SA – 2016’s sales were up from R17 million in 2015, and way up from R1 million in sales in 2011 when it held its first Black Friday sale, it said.

According to Reid, technology products, fragrances and toys traditionally perform well on Black Friday, but the retailer is anticipating a spike across all categories.

“While the big ticket items like games consoles and TVs are popular as pre-Christmas buys, our highest volume sales on Black Friday are often driven by everyday consumables, like nappies, dog food and coffee,” he said.

Website downtime

In 2016, Takealot experienced some technical issues with the site being overloaded by eager shoppers, and transactions failing due to payment gateways (especially 3D Secure) buckling under the unprecedented transaction volumes.

South Africa’s banks have already said that they have been upgrading infrastructure, and have technical teams on standby to handle the expected spike. Takealot, meanwhile, says it is preparing for five times the traffic seen on a typical payday.

“Our checkout process ran into problems on last year’s Black Friday because the banks’ payment gateway fell over from the surge of online shoppers across the country. The combination of all the retailers running Black Friday sales meant that they simply couldn’t handle the volume of transactions,” Reid said.

For 2017, he said that the company is continuously making changes to its systems and processes to ensure it doesn’t leave customers disappointed.

“We’ve bolstered resources across the business – from our engineers and developers to customer service shopping assistants, warehouse staff to Takealot Delivery Team drivers, to manage the increase in volume,” he said.

Source: Business Tech

Wealth tax and VAT hike being considered

With a massive tax shortfall in South Africa, new ways of drawing in revenue for the fiscus are being considered, including a wealth tax.

However, experts warn that a wealth tax is unlikely to cover even a quarter of South Africa’s current debt shortfall of R50 billion, meaning that a VAT increase in some form is also likely.

This is according to Judge Dennis Davis, who was speaking to BusinessDay ahead of a new wealth tax report set to be released by the Davis committee at the end of November.

Early signs indicate that a wealth tax could raise as little as R6-billion, meaning that it will have to be used in conjunction with other tax hikes.

“The problem with a wealth tax in SA is that it would be levied on an incredibly narrow base,” said Davis. “A huge amount of wealth in SA is also tied up in retirement funds, and we are busy investigating the implications of that.”

The committee is also concerned that a new wealth tax may penalise middle-class savings, and is aware that the South African Revenue Service (SARS) would need to institute a sophisticated system to administer it.

In comparison, Davis said that just a 1-percentage-point increase in the VAT rate (bringing it to 15%) would raise R20 billion.

Another option being mooted is a multi-tiered VAT system of 0%, 14% and 20%, said Davis.

This would result in a further twenty “necessities” being zero-rated, while luxury items such as smartphones could see a 20% VAT tax.

“It all comes down to the fact that we have to increase VAT,” said Davis. “Raising personal and company income tax isn’t going to get us there.”

Wealth tax

The Davis Tax Committee issued a media statement on 25 April 2017, calling for written submissions on the introduction of a possible wealth tax in South Africa.

This proposal arrived two months after an increase in the top income tax bracket for individuals by 4% to 45%, resulting in an effective capital gains tax (CGT) rate for individuals of 18%. This should be seen on the back of the increase the CGT rate by nearly 5% from 13.32% in 2014 to the current 18% in 2017.

Unlike income tax, where taxes flow from earnings (ie wages, salaries, profits, interest and rents), a wealth tax is generally understood to be a tax on the benefits derived from asset ownership.

The tax is to be paid on the market value of the assets owned year on year, whether or not such assets yield any income or differently put, it is typically a tax on unrealised income.

According to law firm ENSAfrica, while a wealth tax may undoubtedly be beneficial to address the divide between top and bottom level income earners, two main problems have been identified by some of the countries that have abolished this tax, namely the disclosure and valuation of the applicable “wealth”.

“Some of the reasons for its abolition have been cited as the disproportionately high administration and compliance costs associated with this form of tax, as well as capital flight from the country, said ENSAfrica.

“This sentiment is shared by France, where one report, established by the French Parliament, estimated that more than 500 people left the country in 2006 as a result of the impôt de solidarité sur la fortune (or ISF wealth tax). ”

“Looking at the above factors, it is difficult to see how a wealth tax will assist to improve South Africa’s weak economic growth and unemployment, in particular, if it incites a further flight of capital and a resultant decrease in economic activity,” it said.

Source: Supermarket & Retailer 

One year after Donald Trump was elected president, stocks are at record highs.

While Trump frequently claims that the former caused the latter, the technology industry might beg to differ.

Tech giants Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon are the five top contributors to the S&P 500’s advance in 2017, accounting for 28% of the index’s gain, according to Howard Silverblatt, a senior index analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

That’s over $1 trillion of increased market value from five companies.

Facebook is the top performer in the group, up 57 percent this year as of Monday, followed by Apple at 52 percent. The lowest of the five is Alphabet, up 32 percent, still well ahead of the S&P 500’s 16 percent gain.

A war of words
Trump has never had a particularly friendly relationship with tech.

During the campaign, as Hillary Clinton was staffing her digital team with people from Google, Facebook and Twitter, Trump was attacking Apple for manufacturing abroad and accusing Amazon of somehow using The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, to keep the e-commerce giant’s taxes low.

Now imagine if Trump had followed through on his promise to go after Amazon for, as he claimed, not paying its fair share of taxes. Or if he’d somehow forced Apple to start manufacturing in the United States.

More broadly, remember when Trump promised to levy a 45 percent tariff on products made in China? Apple and Microsoft manufacture devices there, and Amazon counts on Chinese sellers for a disproportionate number of products sold on its marketplace.

Tech has also taken public stances against many Trump proposals.

Since Trump took office, tech companies have adamantly opposed his immigration restrictions, whether the travel ban or his move to end protections for people who were brought to the country illegally as kids.

In July, Google and Amazon were among companies to participate in an online protest against the Trump administration’s effort to unwind net neutrality rules that force large internet providers like CNBC owner Comcast and AT&T to treat all content equally.

Tech leaders have spoken out against Trump’s order to ban transgender people from serving in the military, and they criticized the president in August for suggesting that “many sides” were to blame after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent.

But apart from the rhetoric, little has actually changed in Washington since Trump took office. And for tech companies, that’s just fine.

Tech has ‘optimized the rules of globalization’
Kate Mitchell, a partner at venture capital firm Scale Venture Partners, said that if Trump did follow through with protectionist trade policies that made it harder for big American companies to grow, the Trump stock rally would disappear in a hurry.

She predicts that U.S. leaders would lose ground to Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent, the world’s sixth and seventh most-valuable tech companies.

“If we have a trade war so that Amazon, Apple and everybody else is being discriminated against globally because we’re being so protectionist, Alibaba and Tencent will say, ‘Move on over,'” Mitchell said. “They are very interested in taking share away.”

After attacking Apple several times during the campaign, Trump told The Wall Street Journal in July that CEO Tim Cook plans to build three plants in the U.S. But there’s no evidence that Cook made such a promise, and it would cost Apple a fortune to move iPhone production from China, home to the world’s best manufacturing technology for
consumer electronics.

“You cannot manufacture smartphones at scale in the United States,” said Denny Fish, who invests in tech stocks at Janus Henderson, where he helps manage $4.7 billion. “There’s rhetoric from the president, but it’s not based in reality in terms of what you could actually do.”

Fish, who owns shares of each of the five biggest tech companies, said he hasn’t changed his view on the industry since Trump became president, “because the reality is that not much is happening.”

In fact, while Trump has touted an “America first” message of economic nationalism, the companies most benefiting during the Trump era are the identical brands that flourished the most under his predecessor. They’re winning from the same trade policies that have existed for decades.

“You look at companies like Microsoft, they’ve pretty much optimized the rules of globalization for 30 years,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of BMO Wealth Management, which oversees $70 billion in assets. Despite Trump’s campaign pledges, “there are a ton of entrenched interests saying we want things to stay the same,” he said.

Taxes represent one area where Trump and tech have been on the same page. Heading into the election, Trump’s tax repatriation proposal called for allowing companies to bring back the huge sums of cash they hold overseas and pay a one-time tax of just 10 percent, as opposed to the corporate tax rate of as high as 35 percent.

The tax plan that the Trump administration has proposed includes an unspecified repatriation benefit and a corporate tax rate of 20 percent. But those changes haven’t happened yet, and it’s not clear if he’s got the votes in Congress to pass the bill.

A political crackdown?
Otherwise, tech investors like Fish are happy with the status quo. As a stakeholder in Alphabet and Facebook, Fish said he is watching to see if any new regulations emerge that could thwart the growth of the dominant digital advertising companies.

New data protection rules go into effect next year in Europe that can limit how those companies use personal data in targeting ads. The U.S. has yet to take similar steps, but Fish said there could be some political pressure on these platforms as it becomes more evident how online ads and fake news were created and manipulated by foreign actors ahead of the presidential election.

“If anything were to change their ability to monetize in the same way, that’s where we would be more concerned,” Fish said.

He was quick to point out that for now, “We don’t see that.”

Ari Levi and Josh Lipton for CNBC

SA’s fast food industry in crisis

The South African fast food industry has come under severe pressure of late. The management of these fast food retailers keep telling us that in an economy that is not growing as it should, making money is becoming increasingly harder.

These companies should also acknowledge that increased competition in the South African market is becoming ever more prevalent. Recent entrants into the markets include chains such as Chesa Nyama and Pizza Perfect.

Famous Brands

Famous Brands, who owns household brands Steers, Wimpy and Debonairs among others, has seen its share price drop over 40% over the last year. The biggest reason is that investors are extremely negative on their Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) acquisition in the UK. Having paid R2.1bn for GBK, the expectation is for GBK to contribute considerably to bottom line earnings.

Unfortunately, the opposite has happened. GBK only made a profit of R16m before interest and taxation. Management has cited reasons such as investor uncertainty due to Brexit. However, the fast food competition in the UK has also intensified and growing market share is becoming increasingly harder.

Taste

Taste Holdings owns the fast food brands Dominos Pizza, Starbucks and Zebro’s. Outside of food, Taste also has jewellery interest in NWJ, Arthur Kaplan and World’s Finest Watches.

Taste has been trying to become profitable and hopes that the international brands of Starbucks will do exactly that.

For the six months ending August 2017, Taste posted a loss of around R65m. Unfortunately, Starbucks has not yet pulled Taste into profit. Worse yet, Taste’s jewellery division, which has historically made profits, has also posted a loss of R769 000.

Taste needs to turn profitable as the balance sheet is very weak. With debts relatively high, Taste might consider issuing rights to bolster their cash position as the Starbucks roll-out is very cash hungry.

The share price of Taste declined from R2.15 in May to 75 cents recently.

Grand Parade Investments

Recently Grand Parade announced that it withheld dividend payments for 2017. As with Taste, Grand Parade is still rolling out its Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins stores. These roll-outs are very capital intensive and are still leading to company losses.

Grand Parade has a profitable gambling interest but is planning to disinvest from those in time as it targets food to be the future of the company.

In March 2017 Grand Parade Investments was trading at R4.00 per share. Currently, the price is trading at R2.71. This is a great entry point for investors as the company is actively deleveraging its balance sheet and has a debt to equity ratio of 16.8%.

Spur

Spur has been a South African household name for years. As all of the other fast food chains, Spur has seen its share price drop considerably. It traded down from R36 per share to around R28 in less than a year. Recent numbers show like for like sales down 9.9% and headline earnings from continued operations declined by 26%.

Spur’s roll-out of the RocoMamas franchise has been extremely successful and has been a great hedge for Spur in a declining environment. RocoMamas increased profits by 34%.

Other brands in the Spur group include Hussar Grill and John Dory’s.

Woolworths

Although not as much fast food, Woolies does offer customers a sit-down and take-away option. The Woolies share price seems to have found some support around the R60 level with investors buying the share a lot cheaper than they did 2 years ago. In November 2016, Woolies was trading at around R104 per share.

Like Famous Brands, Woolworths tried to achieve scale by entering an offshore market. The David Jones acquisition in Australia is providing problems with reported management differences and questions over the price paid for the acquisition.

However, Woolworths does sell superior products to its competitors and will rocket when the South African economy turns and the Australian acquisition gets bedded down properly.

By Kirk Swart for Fin24

One of the most important findings of Rand Merchant Bank’s (RMB) seventh edition of Where to Invest in Africa is that the continent could find itself hovering on the brink of disaster if it continues to depend on its current economic fundamentals and does not usher in economic diversification. Where to Invest in Africa 2018 highlights those countries that have understood the need to adapt to the prolonged slowdown in commodity prices and sluggish levels of production growth – and those that haven’t.

The theme for Where to Invest in Africa 2018 is “Money Talks” and this edition “follows the money” on the African continent to evaluate aspects crucial to each country’s economic performance. The report focuses on the main sources of dollar revenues in Africa, which allows it to measure the most important income generators and identify investment opportunities.

“Over the past three years, some African governments have had to implement deep and painful budget cuts, announce multiple currency devaluations and adopt hawkish monetary policy stances – all as a result of a significant drop in traditional revenues,” says RMB Africa analyst Celeste Fauconnier, a co-author of Where to Invest in Africa 2018.

“Some countries have been more nimble and effective than others in managing shortfalls,” says Nema Ramkhelawan-Bhana, also an RMB Africa analyst and co-author of the report. “But major policy dilemmas have ensued, forcing governments to balance economically prudent solutions with what is politically palatable.”

“The last three years have sounded an alarm, amplifying what is now a dire need for the economies of Africa to shift their focus from traditional sources of income to other viable alternatives,” says RMB Africa analyst Neville Mandimika, a contributor to Where to Invest in Africa 2018.

“These years have exposed a number of African nations to severe economic stress – especially that of liquidity shortages. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to infuse into a context as complex as this, and traditional forms of revenue will remain a reality for many years to come,” says RMB Africa analyst Ronak Gopaldas, also a co-author.

In this edition of Where to Invest in Africa 2018, RMB’s Investment Attractiveness Index, which balances economic activity against the relative ease of doing business, illustrates how subdued levels of economic activity have diluted several scores on the index when compared with last year, resulting in some interesting movements within the top 10.

Notable omissions from the top 10 this year are Nigeria and Algeria, which have fallen from numbers six and 10 to numbers 13 and 15, respectively. Ethiopia and Rwanda, on the other hand, have climbed three and four places, respectively.

But probably the most notable change is that South Africa has fallen from first place for the first time since the inception of the report, ceding its place to Egypt, which is now Africa’s most attractive investment destination.

Egypt displaced South Africa largely because of its superior economic activity score and sluggish growth rates in South Africa, which have deteriorated markedly over the past seven years. South Africa also faces mounting concerns over issues of institutional strength and governance, though in its favour are its currency, equity and capital markets, which are still a cut above the rest, with many other African nations facing liquidity constraints.

Morocco retained its third position for a third consecutive year, having benefitted from a greatly enhanced operating environment since the “Arab Spring” that began in 2010. Surprisingly, Ethiopia, a country dogged by sociopolitical instability, displaced Ghana to take fourth spot mostly because of its rapid economic growth, having brushed past Kenya as the largest economy in East Africa. Ghana’s slide to fifth position was mostly due to perceptions of worsening corruption and weaker economic freedom.

Kenya holds firm in the top 10 at number six. Despite being surpassed by Ethiopia, investors are still attracted by Kenya’s diverse economic structure, pro-market policies and brisk consumer spending growth. A host of business-friendly reforms aimed at rooting out corruption and steady economic growth helped Tanzania climb two places to number seven. Rwanda re-entered the top 10 having spent two years on the periphery, helped by being one of the fastest-reforming economies in the world, high real growth rates and its continuing attempts to diversify its economy.

At number nine, Tunisia has made great strides in advancing political transition while an improved business climate has been achieved through structural reforms, greater security and social stability. Côte d’Ivoire slipped two places to take up 10th position. Although its business environment scoring is still relatively low, its government has made significant strides in inviting investment into the country, leading to a strong increase in foreign direct investment over the years and resulting in one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa.

For the first time, Nigeria does not feature in the top 10, with its short-term investment appeal having been eroded by recessionary conditions. Uganda is steadily closing in on the top 10, though market activity is likely to remain subdued after a tumultuous 2016 marred by election-related uncertainty, a debilitating drought and high commercial lending rates. Though Botswana, Mauritius and Namibia are widely rated as investment-grade economies, they do not feature in the top 10 mostly because of the relatively small sizes of their markets – market size has been a key consideration in the report’s methodology.

Where to Invest in Africa 2018 also includes 191 jurisdictions around the world, and measures Africa’s performance relative to other country groupings. The unfortunate reality is that African countries are still at the lower end of the global performance spectrum, which continues to be dominated by the US, the UK, Australia and Germany.

Source: Business Day 

Debt and corruption scandals at Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. make the utility the biggest risk to South Africa’s economy and the government needs to replace its management, Goldman Sachs Group said.

Eskom plans to raise almost R340 billion ($26 billion) in the next five years, while meeting R413 billionof interest and debt repayments, which amount to 8% of South Africa’s gross domestic product.

The utility is caught up in allegations of corruption related to contracts it signed with companies linked to the Gupta family, who are friends of President Jacob Zuma. It’s also without a permanent chief executive officer and has suspended its finance director. Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.

“We are having discussions on solutions,” Colin Coleman, a partner of Goldman Sachs and head of sub-Saharan Africa, said in an interview in Johannesburg on Thursday, without elaborating.

“Government has got to put the governance in place and clean it out. It needs a permanent credible, independent non-conflicted chairman and a credible board and from that, credible managers.”

The New York-based lender in 2015 provided informal advice to the South African government on the sale of state assets to raise money for Eskom and proposals on how to improve the utility’s cash flow, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

Eskom faces lower demand, with South Africans last year using the least amount of electricity generated by Eskom in more than a decade.

The utility is also spending billions of dollars on new power plants that are years behind schedule and over budget. The company disclosed R3 billion of irregular expenditure in its financial results on July 20, a figure which its auditors said they couldn’t independently confirm.

“Eskom is the biggest single risk to the South African economy,” Coleman said.

“If you strip out corruption and sort out procurement, I’m sure there are efficiency gains there. There are self-help initiatives that can deliver a company that’s a lot more efficient. You’ve got to incentivize efficiency.”

The South African government, which saw its budget deficit widen to 92.2 billion rand in July, is hamstrung by an economy that’s barely growing, political infighting, and losses at other state-owned companies such as South African Airways.

Two ratings agencies cut South Africa’s foreign debt to junk in April, citing the firing of former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan at the end of March and poor governance at state-owned enterprises.

Eskom, which has used R218.2 billion in government guarantees, hasn’t held a public auction for its debt in South Africa since 2014, relying on development finance institutions and export credit agencies for loans.

The power utility is confident it can reduce its dependence on the government by targeting funding sources that do not require explicit guarantees, the power utility said in an emailed response to questions.

“Eskom continues to access various debt markets, which include funding from development finance institutions, domestic and international bond issuances, funding supported by export credit agencies as well as short-term commercial paper bill issuances,” the company said.

Source: Bloomberg

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