Friday, 6 March 2015


Even for a physicist this relativity stuff is not easy. When priced in US dollars our currency has lost about 10% of its value in the last 12 months. But in euros it is almost 15% stronger over the same period. Our runt is also up versus the Yen and pretty much unchanged against the Pound since this time last year. This boils down to the conclusion that that there has been steady demand for the US dollar despite all the nasty things that are said about that country. In theory most of us shouldn’t be needing as many dollars as in the past, since oil, which is largely priced in greenbacks, has fallen so much in price in the past year. Indeed the dollar prices of a great many commodities have been falling. And yet folk want dollars.
Despite the deluge of rather good company results, the JSE has lost the momentum it enjoyed since the start of the year and is shying away from a convincing breach of the 53 000 level.
One would have thought that in the wonderful new world of immediate and universal internet communication there was very little that was really secret. The emergence of a tribe of brave whistle blowers has shone a bright and welcome light on all sorts of things that our leaders felt we really didn’t need to know. And yet it seems we have spies doing things. One of our spooks is especially incensed that his cell phone number has been revealed. Surely he doesn’t use his mobile phone for confidential chats? Isn’t there a big red telephone on his desk that connects him to Number 1 to warn him which wife could be adding toxins to his porridge?
South Africa is a party to a global agreement to close down in a few months time all “terrestrial free-to-air” TV broadcasts. This has to be done to release a slice of the broadcast spectrum for another technology and should be straight forward. The affected TV stations will broadcast their programs on other channels but using a digital format. They will continue to send out the signals from the high TV masts which are dotted about the place, hence the term “terrestrial” The very many viewers who receive their TV programs broadcast from these masts will need to acquire a small piece of equipment in order to handle the new digital signal. This “set-top box” is a digital-to-analogue decoder, very similar to the one used by the viewers who subscribe to the services where their programs are transmitted from a satellite. There are two problems that worry the government about this change-over. The first is that many of their supporters won’t be able to afford the set-top box and secondly, the lucrative business of manufacturing these boxes should ideally be parcelled out to friends and relatives.. To help solve the first problem they plan to issue at least 5 million of the set-top boxes for free to selected voters/viewers.. Undoubtedly a secondary market in decoders will immediately spring up and this will not do.  Controlling this, requires that the boxes have some way of being switched on and off remotely. Reaching cost-effective, appropriate and regime-friendly solutions to these and other problems has been the cause of prolonged and fierce squabbling. Despite claims to the contrary they are probably not yet all resolved.
The massive and bulky tomes comprising Minister Nene’s budget have not yet gathered their first layer of dust when one of the constituencies he asked to play along has demanded far more money than he offered. As predicted this “austerity” stuff is unappealing. Since many of the services we expect from our government are already subject to lengthy and error-ridden delays, perhaps the strikes will make little impact on our lives. It will, however, probably mean that the new revenue generators will prove insufficient and this time next year they will have been cranked up yet again. Although not yet enthusiastically promoted by most banks, the new tax free interest paying accounts deserve a close look by all investors.
Hopefully the Proteas’ confidence and momentum will see them very near the top of their pool at the Cricket World Cup. But then the really tense stuff begins because to win the cup they have to win four successive matches. We have never done that at the world cup before. Oh dear. And the Sharks really are going about getting to the Super 15 play offs the long way round.
James Greener
6th March 2015