Friday, 27 March 2015


 It’s not exactly a roaring bear market (yet) and the all share is off only about 2.5% but it’s a sufficiently large move to require that the talking heads come up with reasons for it. One popular theme is that Yemen is being bombed by its neighbour Saudi Arabia. Now most of us have only the barest ideas of just where these places are and further almost none of us have any idea why they need to be seriously nasty to each other. However, many of the world’s markets have reacted to these developments and so to show how grown up we are, the JSE drifted off as well. Actually it’s unnecessary to look to the Middle East for reasons to be anxious about our markets. There’s plenty going on at home to make one nervous.
The biggest number to worry about is the R1.61 per litre price rise coming next week to the petrol price. This is going to hurt disposable incomes and unavoidably affect retail spending which reportedly is already being hammered by ever stricter interpretations of consumer credit laws. The period of respite granted by a falling crude oil price has been cruelly terminated by a desperate National Treasury and a sagging currency.
Shortly after telling the nation that too many of we citizens are reliant on state handouts, the president promised that about a billion rand would be set aside for low interest loans for businessmen selected by race. Without dwelling on the likely unconstitutionality of that policy, the contradiction is stunning and is a perfect example of the lack of understanding of how economies work. Any business that survives only because of taxpayer subsidies is not adding any value. The president also complained that this step was necessary because commercial lenders were refusing to supply cash to these applicants but failed to spot that this was most likely because the banks saw a low probability that the businesses would be able to repay the loan. Governments of course have no such qualms.
There can now be no one with the na├»ve view that the migration of land based TV transmissions to a new system would be achieved at the lowest cost and the greatest benefit to all the country’s viewers. At a meeting of the potential manufactures of the so-called set-top boxes, violence ensued and guns were waved. The mentioned sum of R4.3bn clearly has lots of fat well worth fighting for.
Even if we are never able to determine exactly who did what, to whom and when, the indisputable fact is that where we are now is the consequence of every action by every one in the past. Many of those acts were wise or philanthropic and delivered benefits that are still being enjoyed today -- like having a developed nation over 100 years old. But equally, by current standards and context, many of those actions are alarming and deplorable, but most importantly, irreversible. No amount of yelling, poo-throwing, paint-spaying or even quiet discourse can change history and only immature and ignorant people would ever attempt to do so. Attacking and defacing symbols and images of the past is also deplorable even if there are grounds for relocating them. The “students” calling for the elimination of all references to Cecil Rhodes will never know the impact they are having on the contemplated generosity of future benefactors. They might however experience a reduction in the value of their own studies at an institution that bows to demands to deny history.
So with both the soccer and cricket trophy cabinets bare we must all now pin our hopes on the ‘bokke in October. With three out of four wins on the away tour the Lions are making the selectors’ job ever easier. The Sharks meanwhile seem to be intent on collecting a full deck of red cards. Talking of red, when will Ferrari start winning again?
James Greener
Friday 27th March 2015