Friday, 28 August 2015


Some rather high profile experts have declared that this is not a bear market but simply a correction. Well maybe. The JSE’s All Share index is still (just) up on the year and has clawed back a shred of decency in that last few days but the currents against it are strong. Probably the biggest headwinds are the weak commodity prices. Given the robust and even frightening growth in the global population the reasonable assumption for years  has been to assume that demand for stuff to eat and materials to fashion into things like shelter and transport would at the very least be steady. The prices say otherwise. In the words of Warren Buffet, “Now that the tide has gone out we can see who has been swimming naked”. Seemingly much of the now absent demand was a result of (principally Chinese) politicians insisting that they could allocate resources better than markets. The alarming development for us is that our politicians here are still getting ever keener to control ownership and set prices.
Adding to the gloom was the publication of one of those numbers that only the really initiated claim to understand while the rest of us display the appropriate knee-jerk reactions. Stats SA revealed that (economically at least) the country went backwards at a rate of 1.3%pa in the second quarter. It is not known if the slightly eccentric, grandly-styled Statistician General had alerted Number 1 to this shocking news before his “All is well” speech a few days ago. Perhaps he ignored it, because proper economists need a second consecutive quarter of negative growth before officially declaring that a recession has been sighted. It would be unsurprising therefore if next time somehow, Stats SA churns out a positive figure. A close and sceptical inspection of the published GDP figures of the past decade makes one uneasy about their integrity. Economies are actually giant lumbering animals difficult to turn around sharply and the published quarterly growth figures are suspiciously volatile when compared to the data sets before about 2008. Collecting data is a boring thankless job and political patronage and recognition is hardly ever lavished on those with a bad story to tell. Just saying.
Despite the news about the skill and powers of some extremely nimble and somewhat dodgy trading rooms, it remains the case that of all the markets, currencies probably most accurately reflect the relative weights of supply and demand. And the poor old runt is still getting hammered which indicates that even all the jetting about by the high and mighty in planes owned by ones dubious friends has not yet encouraged foreigners to accumulate any (rands)!.
There’s something rather odd about a government outfit that builds dams and pipelines calling for tenders for someone to provide professional services to develop and implement a cultural heritage plan. One would think that heritage is something nurtured by individuals who believe their society has something worth remembering and preserving. It’s not the sort of thing that involves meetings and mission statements and action plans and all the other things that sleek and slick consultants will gleefully prepare for a majestic fee.
And on the topic of water and heritage it turns out that the half page full colour advertisement about “Empowering Women in Water” has nothing to do with synchronised swimming. It’s a conference, which amongst other things will see the launch of The Women in Water Entrepreneurship Incubator. That sure ticks lots of boxes. But it’s puzzling that no one has yet noted how condescending and ironic this notion is. Around here, the task of fetching water has always been women’s work. It’s a Heritage thing.
In preparation for tonight’s ‘bok World Cup squad announcement a very clever check list for fans has been published to help them vent their outrage, indignation and despair. The point to remember, however, is that the teams we meet will also have been sent off with the criticisms of their fans ringing in their ears. It’s going to be tough for everyone.
James Greener
28th August 2015