Tag: US

E-commerce and media giant Naspers and its pay-TV arm MultiChoice could now be facing a possible class action suit in the US after a law firm there announced it was starting an investigation on behalf of investors into Naspers.

In the latest fallout in the widening scandal involving allegations of corruption, collusion and undue corporate influence from Naspers’ MultiChoice unit to allegedly influence South Africa’s long-stalled digital migration switch from analogue to digital TV, US law firm Pomerantz has launched a search for investors who want to start a class action lawsuit against Naspers.

Pomerantz said its investigation on behalf of Naspers investors concerns whether Naspers and certain of its officers and/or directors have engaged in securities fraud or other unlawful business practices.

In its public statement issued on Tuesday it said: “On December 1, 2017, Naspers reported that its wholly-owned television unit MultiChoice had initiated an investigation into whether improper payments were made to ANN7, a South African news channel owned by the politically-connected Gupta family.

“According to local media, citing leaked emails, MultiChoice substantially increased its annual payment to ANN7 from R50m to R141m over the past two years.

“On this news, Naspers’ American Depositary Receipt price fell $3.05, or 5.58%, to close at $51.60 on December 1, 2017,” Pomerantz said in the statement.

Naspers acknowledged Pomerantz’s statement and told Fin24 on Tuesday that adjustments in global tech markets took place at around the same time Pomerantz highlights.

Naspers re-iterated that it takes the recent media allegations about MultiChoice SA seriously. It however pointed out that MultiChoice SA has many minority shareholders and the responsibility for dealing with the matter lies with the independent MultiChoice SA board.

“The MultiChoice South Africa board has therefore instructed its audit and risk committees to assess whether or not there have been any corporate governance failures at MultiChoice in regard to the ANN7 matter and report back to the board,” Naspers said in an emailed response to questions.

The ecommerce and multimedia giant said it has confidence in the MultiChoice SA board to deal with the matter, following their governance procedures. It said it will verify that the MultiChoice SA board has addressed the matter adequately.

“The MultiChoice Audit & Risk committee has confirmed the action it is taking in response to the allegations in the media. As stated above, once they complete their work following their governance procedures, they will report to the MultiChoice board, and after that has happened the Naspers board will consider whether it is satisfied with the action that the MultiChoice board has taken.”

Source: Thinus Ferreira and Fin24

We don’t know what a Donald Trump presidency will mean for South Africa. But what South Africans should know is that America has just elected its most dangerous president ever because it has not dealt with two problems the country has also ducked: inequality and race.

Our future, too, may be perilous if we ignore this warning.

Whatever Trump does in office, the stark reality is that America has elected a bigot and demagogue with a deep contempt for women. When he takes over, the world will enter a time of great danger because we will have no idea whether a president who ignored the constraints of decency when he was a candidate will respect them in office.

And since the future is so uncertain, South Africa’s best response to Trump’s election is to learn the lessons of its causes.

Inequality

The first reason why America’s voters (or almost half of them since Trump did not win a majority of votes) chose the unthinkable is inequality. Trump was not elected by those who have most suffered from American inequality – the racial minorities who mostly voted for his opponent. But he was helped over the line by a swing away from the Democratic Party by white working class voters – this was probably why he won the “rust belt” states of the mid-West.

While white workers are better off than their black and Hispanic counterparts, they have taken a massive economic hit over the past decades – wages have stagnated or declined and jobs are no longer secure. Their world, in which they could rely on a steady job with rising pay, has collapsed. The effect has been famously measured by Nobel laureate Angus Deatonand his wife Anne Case, who found that the new realities were playing havoc with the health and wellbeing of working class whites.

These workers are not nearly at the bottom of the pile – if they were, they may have blamed the economic system. But they have lost their relative privilege and so they blame those below them in the pecking order – racial minorities and immigrants. The MIT political scientist Roger Peterson has shown that right-wing authoritarian movements grow when groups who enjoy power and privilege believe that it is threatened by other groups. They react by resenting the upstarts who may knock them off their perch – American white workers fit his theory.

The lesson for South Africans is that this was caused by an economic approach which has widened inequality by dumping protections for workers and the poor. Angry white workers blame globalisation. In fact the real culprit is policies which have torn up the deal which spread the benefits of growth more fairly. The South African parallel is the continued unwillingness or inability of key economic actors to negotiate a growth path which will include many in the economy.

The racial divide

The second reason for Trump’s triumph was that America’s racial divide remains probably the key driver of its politics.

Workers were not the only white voters who were important to Trump: he won among almost every group of white voters, including college educated men who were said to hold him in contempt. The only white group to reject him was college educated women and then by a small margin. So many white voters for whom Trump showed contempt were willing to vote for him – and the reason is surely that they wanted a president who would protect whiteness.

When Barack Obama was elected, commentators waxed lyrical about a post-racial America which had ditched its prejudices. It did not take very long to show how off the mark this was.

For eight years, the Republican Party and its white support base waged an unceasing war against Obama, even when he introduced measures such as health insurance which massively benefited poor whites. As research by the pollster Stanley Greenberg showed, the key motive was Obama’s race.

Again, Peterson explains this. Many American whites believe the America they and their parents knew is disappearing as racial minorities become more numerous and more mainstream – whites are projected to become a minority in the next few decades. Obviously many whites do not feel this way but the resentment is growing: many who did not vote against Obama chose Trump.

Again there is a parallel with South Africa. In both countries, elites duck the racial issue which is its most serious divide. The fact that Obama was harried because he was black was ignored in the mainstream – every explanation was advanced expect the obvious one.

South Africans are constantly urged to “move beyond race” when it continues to divide the country. In the few years before 1994’s first democratic election, elites in the country took race seriously – once it had a democratic constitution and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the problem was declared solved and they lost interest. But it wasn’t – racial division and anger remain the country’s most serious challenge, threatening its universities and obstructing its attempts to grow as an economy and a society.

The threat posed by inequality and racism

Could South Africa’s failure to address inequality and race threaten the country’s politics too? It already does.

The patronage politics which plagues the African National Congress has threatened the National Treasury and has produced the politics of “state capture” which is a symptom of the country’s inequalities. South Africans who are included economically don’t need political bosses to hand them goodies – the many who are still excluded do. This fuels those politicians who want to use public money to build political support.

Racial divides also give the patronage politicians a ready excuse: they can claim that taking money from the powerful Gupta family, who are close to South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, is a rebellion against white capital. A growing chorus from this faction insists that they are being prevented from taking over the National Treasury not by a concern to protect public money but at the bidding of white tycoons who do not want black people to become rich.

And they have, particularly on the country’s campuses but elsewhere too, produced a brand of politics which justifies violence and bullying directed mainly at black people and – you guessed it – women on the grounds that privileged whites are determined to silence black people seeking to express themselves.

Here, ignoring inequality and race may not ensure the election of a dangerous president – although it could do that at the next ANC conference. But, as in the US, South Africans pay a price for it. It poses a constant threat to the economy and society which the country can only tackle if South Africans negotiate a more equal economy and show the same willingness to address race and racism as some did 25 years ago.

By Steven Friedman, Professor of Political Studies, University of Johannesburg for The Conversation. Published on www.businesstech.co.za

The back-to-school season is a crucial time for the traditional supplies industry, accounting for 35% of the $11,8-billion in yearly sales and nearly half of unit sales in the US, according to global information company The NPD Group.

While the season’s importance to the industry is consistently high, at the same time how and where consumers shop, combined with other influencers from teachers to online shopping, is shaking up the industry.

“To the average consumer, back-to-school shopping may seem like a fairly consistent and predictable routine, but for retailers and manufacturers it is an extremely dynamic environment,” says Leen Nsouli, director, office supplies industry analyst, The NPD Group.

Birth of a back-to-school season online
While back-to-school shoppers are still shopping primarily at brick-and-mortar, they are increasingly purchasing supplies online. From July through September 2015, the e-commerce channel gained $90-million in dollar share growth versus brick-and-mortar.

“Consumers are spending more online and it is occurring later in the season, with a seasonal arc forming from the first week of August and lasting through mid-September. Back-to-school online share will continue to grow, making it even more essential for retailers and manufacturers to optimize their omni-channel strategies,” says Nsouli.

Shifts in school start dates and tax-free holidays
School start dates differ by region and grade level around the US, causing variations in spending patterns and influencing when consumers are in stores and shopping for supplies.

Areas such as New York and Seattle are among the latest start dates, while Atlanta and Phoenix are among the earliest. This year there will be two less shopping days between the Fourth of July and Labour Day. “Each year back-to-school spending occurs later, and a late Labour Day holiday in 2015 pushed out the spending even later than prior years. I anticipate this will also be the case this year,” says Nsouli.

At the same time, there will be differences in the handful of states that offer tax-free days during July and August. This year there will be nine less days by state versus 2015, and some others have shifted their days. This pertains not only to brick-and-mortar stores; e-commerce sites will also be offering tax-free savings on items. “All of these factors reinforce the importance of timing for retailers and manufacturers as they plan their assortments, in-store and online merchandising, and back-to-school marketing campaigns,” added Nsouli.

Influence of school lists and supply packs on purchases
“With 70% of teachers providing school lists and 30% offering school supply packs, it is no surprise that these are the primary stimuli for back-to-school supply purchases,” says Nsouli. K-6 school list items vary by region, which impacts the demand and sales for certain items in those areas.

For example, a higher percentage of thesauruses are on school lists in the Northeast, and watercolours in the West, according to NPD’s Back-to-School Supply List Database 2015. There is also a regional relevance when it comes to school supply packs, which are offered to parents for purchase by the school. According to NPD’s Back-to-School Monitor 2015, nearly 50% of consumers with this option purchased one for all or some of their children.

Inspiration from social media
“Social media engagement has added yet another dimension to every industry and season, and back-to-school is no exception. A perpetual stream of trends on platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram means that teachers and other consumers alike are being influenced in new and different ways. This has also helped to put the fashion back in function when it comes to supplies; consumers are willing to spend more on aesthetically pleasing, or fashionable, products,” says Nsouli.

In fact, last year NPD found that over one-third of US teachers used Pinterest and 20% used Facebook for classroom curriculum and school list inspiration.

Source: www.npd.com

SA on terror alert

The British government has joined the United States in voicing concerns over threats of terrorist attacks against foreigners in shopping areas around South Africa.

The United States embassy in Pretoria issued a similar advisory at the weekend.

“There is a high threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners such as shopping areas in Johannesburg and Cape Town,” the British government said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The government on Monday sought to allay fears after Washington warned Americans of a possibly imminent terror attack by Islamic extremists in the country’s major cities.

“We remain a strong and stable democratic country and there is no immediate danger,” State Security Minister David Mahlobo said in a statement.

The US on Saturday said it had received information that terrorist groups were planning to carry out attacks in SA during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The warning said attacks may target sites frequented by US citizens, including high-end shopping areas and malls in the economic hub of Johannesburg and Cape Town.

It came against the background of the Islamic State’s “public call for its adherents to carry out terrorist attacks globally during the upcoming month of Ramadan”, the US embassy in SA said.

Source: www.bdlive.co.za

From writing to adult colouring, a number of exciting trends emerged and re-emerged in 2015 which helped grow dollar sales for key players in the office supplies industry.

The US office and school supplies industry grew 3% in 2015 to $12-billion, with $1,2-billion stemming from online sales, according to retail sales data from global information company The NPD Group.

The bulk of the industry’s revenue came from the Writing Instruments category, which represented 20% of total industry sales, and was the thrust behind its growth in 2015; the category experienced dollar and unit growth of 8%, and 7%, respectively.

“From writing to adult colouring, a number of exciting trends emerged and re-emerged in 2015 which helped grow dollar sales for key players in the office supplies industry. These trends continue to have a positive impact on sales,” says Leen Nsouli, office supplies industry analyst, The NPD Group.

Amidst the digital migration being seen across industries, the traditional writing category has managed to grow and, at the same time, evolve with the times, as new products on the market show. Traditional pen sales grew 5% during the year, and specialty pens by 11%. In line with the adult colouring book trend, dollar sales of porous, gel, and multi-coloured pens were up by 28%, 9% and 8%, respectively.

Coloured pencils were also popular items, with sales up 40% for the full year. Consumers are also spending on fine writing instruments, and increased their spending by nearly $2,5-million on fountain, gel, and ballpoint pens compared to what they spent on these products in 2014.

While the pen category saw sales increase, 2015 marked a shift in the purchasing of pens versus pencils during the back-to-school season, with traditional pen sales losing unit share to encased and mechanical pencils. Looking at back-to-school shopping purchases, consumers traded 27,6-million individual units of pens for pencils in 2015.

“There is a lot of creativity and innovation in both pens and complementary products. Whether it’s taking notes in an office meeting, journal keeping, colouring, or finding that special lifestyle or luxury pen, many consumers are still handwriting,” says Nsouli.

“The comeback of the pencil could be due to a number of factors, including the increased mention of encased pencils on K-6 school lists, growth of large pack sizes in pencils, or the increased purchase rate of specialty pens like the stylus pen, which are an attractive option for consumers looking to blend traditional writing and technology.”

Looking at channel performance, the writing category experienced growth across all retail channels – brick-and-mortar, online, and food/drug stores – and outperformed the overall supplies industry in each.

“The keys to growth in supplies – whether for the office, school, or crafting – are all about innovation and price,” says Nsouli. “I’ve seen this done through new styles and design, new licensing agreements, a blending between glass and paper, and the creation of a new activity like adult colouring, which lead the way to increased sales across supplies categories.”

Finnish pulp and paper maker UPM-Kymmene has stated that the company will close its Madison Paper Industries paper mill in Maine, United States, and sell off its related hydro power assets.

UPM-Kymmene, the world’s biggest producer of graphic papers such as newsprint and magazine and office paper, has recently aimed to shift focus to pulp, as the market for print paper has been hit by the growth of digital media.

The mill, that employs more than 200 people, produces approximately 195 000 tonnes of supercalendered paper used for magazines and catalogues.

UPM-Kymmene says that demand for supercalendered paper declined significantly in 2015, and the decline is expected to continue.

“The Madison mill is not cost-competitive and has lost a significant amount of sales in the recent past,” says Ruud van den Berg, senior vice-president of UPM Paper for Europe and North-America.

The mill, a partnership with Northern SC Paper Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York Times Company, is expected to close at the latest by the end of May.

By Tuomas Forsell and David Evans for www.reuters.com

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