Friday, 6 May 2016


Both share prices and the currency appear to have been frightened by the storms that swept across the country last weekend (including Durban). When it’s too rough to launch the ski boat there’s opportunity to read and do too much thinking. The big market news though is that Barclays have made a start of getting rid of their ABSA shares. And despite the warnings that borrowers are finding it increasingly difficult to service their loans, there has been good demand for this sizable chunk of a local bank. On the other side of the trade though is the pressure of converting all these rands into pounds might be a headwind for the currency for a while.

Other money news is that a posse of ministers has been visiting the banks to find out why they have all closed accounts belonging to our great friends the Gupta family. “Reputational risk” seems a weak excuse when you see who else in this place can have a bank account. There may be something much more sinister which we have yet to hear about. The allegations that great bulging sacks of folding stuff passed through the gates of the Gupta residence on a regular basis is intriguing. It can be noted though that the rather mundane daily report from the Reserve Bank about the quantity of notes and coins in circulation shows no particular anomalies.

It was surprising to see that terrestrial digital TV nonsense getting a mention again this week. It seems that the squabble about who gets to build the required set-top boxes to decode the digital signals is still ongoing as is the fight about how those boxes should work. By international agreement this system should have been in operation country-wide a year ago. Undoubtedly funny money flows are at the heart of this tardy decision making. But now it may be switched on in the remote and sparsely populated Northern Cape region quite soon. Why? Presumably Botswana and Namibia are complaining that our now illegal old-style analogue TV signals are leaking into their territories and mucking up their whizz-bang modern uses for that piece of the broadcast spectrum.

It is fascinating that a helium mine is now in production in the Free State. It’s surprising that the sole source of this second lightest of the gasses actually is from subterranean reservoirs and in this case there is even some very useful natural gas as a co-product. High tech stuff among the mielie fields. You just have to love this place.

Many eyebrows were raised when Mark Barnes, a man who is well known in local investment circles and already has his hands full trying to coaxing performance from a small listed company, accepted the job of running the Post Office. His laudable success in raising a considerable sum of new money is now threatened with a workers strike which may well be the meteor strike that will cause the total extinction of this dinosaur. There must however, be a few nice assets still attached to the old bones of this carcase. Vultures will be circling.

The South African National Taxi Council were last in the news, more than a year ago when hosting a great launch party for a new airline that has yet to flap a single wing. Now they have popped up asking the minister of transport for regulatory powers so they can help curb the lethal lawlessness of their members. No way is this a good idea. If the price of a traffic cop is a blue buffalo just think how much cheaper one’s colleagues are. Only the very unlikely introduction of a trained, dedicated and incorruptible police force will start to reduce the awful carnage in which the owners and drivers of the minibuses play such a large part.

I’m not a great soccer watcher but the incident-filled league-deciding match between two London sides was very entertaining. Four whole goals and almost a bridge hand of yellow cards! For a rugby fan the yellow-card rule is odd because usually there is almost no benefit to the side that is fouled and scant immediate effective sanction on the player committing the offence. Nonetheless the folk in some small city on the right hand side of that soggy island seemed pleased. Which can’t be said of anyone following our cricket “stars” in the IPL jamboree or South African Super Rugby sides.

James Greener

Friday 6th May 2016