Friday, 29 May 2015


The All Share index performance in May is going to come out around -3%. This is not good news.  The bear is definitely stirring. Only the really brave or very well informed are going to claim that this drop in share prices is exposing bargains. Company presentations to investors are full of hand waving and hyperbolic spin avoiding the bad numbers in the penultimate slide. Even Statistician-general (what a grand title) Lehola could not find any lipstick that would stay on the 1.5% GDP growth pig. The daily trading ranges of prices in the rand and bond markets are particularly wide. This is a sign of confusion and indecision as speculators try to profit from intraday volatility rather than ride longer term trends. Winter may have arrived here at last.
One of the big market stories of the moment is that the regulators are pretty sure they can smell the stench of traders fixing prices in the foreign exchange markets. Indeed every now and then one of their quarry breaks cover and proffers money in exchange for being left alone. For some reason these payments are not expressly referred to as fines or admission of guilt forfeits but pretty much that is exactly what they are.
The thing about trying to manipulate markets is that your competition usually detects it long before the regulators do. And the nature of the game is that they will seek a way to exploit that suspicion and to profit from it before it gets truly exposed and blows up or is shut down. The real “crime” in these affairs is usually the reluctance of the mangers and supervisors to delve too deeply too soon into why a particular trading desk is doing so incredibly well. Some traders are just very good – for a while. But inevitably the gaps and profits will get too wide and too high to conceal and then, as the saying goes: “The money runs out before the paper runs out”. And then the compliance crews arrive and concoct another round of controls to make it ever harder to buy cheap and sell expensive and in due course this industry too will get regulated to death on the grounds of “safety and fairness.” But life is neither of these things.
The high pitched whirring noise that started a few days ago has a number of sources. Firstly it’s the spinning of a web of total nonsense about why the taxpayers should pay for a great many improvements and features at Number 1’s private home. Then it’s the din of paper shredders and track covering devices at the homes and offices of anyone involved in securing the 2010 Soccer World Cup for South Africa. And finally there’s the giggling waffle from President Zuma himself as he sugar-coats the latest set of dreadful economic numbers.
Actually the one encouraging item that we can take from the terrier-like display by the US lawyers on FIFA’s case, is the report that no way could be found to extract the USD10m bribe money from the National Treasury and it had to be redirected from FIFA’s own funds. The sad thing is the astonishing similarity of denial and innocence displayed by presidents Sceptic Blather of FIFA and JZ of South Africa. Assuredly both are fully aware of and implicated in their respective pits of corruption and malfeasance and both are displaying that same impeccable mien of puzzlement and hurt.
In the next few days a man will fly a flimsy but huge plane across the Pacific. The aircraft carries no fuel and the flight could last 5 days.  It is powered entirely by electricity stored in batteries and charged by sunlight collected by photo voltaic panels draped along the wings.  Clearly there is a critical balance of sunlight, battery capacity and sleep deprivation. Rather similar to South Africans coping with load shedding. It’s a wonderful project that celebrates and demonstrates human ingenuity and skill. Quite unlike government activity in South Africa.
Early on Sunday morning the biannual migration of Comrades runners from Durban will take place. Almost as momentous will be departure of Bismarck and Jannie (du Plessis) from the Sharks. It’s going to get rather emotional and damp eyed at Kings Park these next couple of weeks.
James Greener
British National Biscuit Day (how could one not mention this?)