Friday, 5 January 2018


The prognosticators are putting down 2018 as another good year to be in the markets. Whether 2017 was good will depend a great deal on where you were at year end and how closely your portfolio mirrored bench marks like the Top 40 Index which scored a very fine 23.1% pa. This ensured that the All Share delivered 21%pa. However, the Top 40 and therefore the overall index is hugely influenced by shares which while mostly performing very well in 2017 don’t really represent the experience of the national economy. The constituents of both the Mid Cap Index (7.4%pa) and the Small Cap Index (3.0% pa) are also constituents of the All Share and these single figure returns are probably closer to what many investors will have experienced. Because of many factors, including derivatives and so-called index tracking funds this divergence between benchmark and the portfolios of many individual investors is very marked. This of course only hastens the move into the tracker funds which is fine, until the big guys crash. When that will be is impossible to see particularly as it feels these days as if every second set of accounts and reports are suspect. The old Blue Chip descriptor was never perfect. Now its nearly impossible to allocate.
For those of us who wrote matric when ball point pens were not allowed (remember the Parker fountain pen and the bottle of ink on the invigilator’s table?) today’s results frenzy is a bit unsettling. And that’s before looking through the newspaper supplement graced with a photo of the head honcho, Minister Motshega above her assurance that for those who passed “the world is their oyster”. It seems for example there are at least two dozen different languages that may be examined. Other unfamiliar school subjects include Nautical Science, Dance Studies, Equine Studies and Consumer Studies. And yet reports from employers and universities suggest that the reading and writing skills of far too many of these poor oyster catchers are minimal. What a mess. Unless of course you are hoping to find a job selling stuff in Modern Greek to a dancing horse on board a ship.
However, what is even messier is the maelstrom unleased by Number One last month when he stated that just about anyone eligible to attend university would receive government money. This provoked a reasonable reaction from those who actually handle student admissions and a slightly panicky response from finance minister Gigaba who can’t see any way of raising this kind of money beyond mugging all foreign visitors and firing most civil servants. However, the real stupidity has been reserved for the politicians and similar callous rabble rousing loud mouths who are cynically raising expectations of so many wanna-be students  Their contribution to the problem of the gross mismatch between available university places and applications, which was present even before JZ pulled the pin on his hand grenade, have been asinine in the extreme; from telling universities to register first and find facilities afterwards, to proposing day and night sessions to cater for demand. No one has checked what the lecturing staff feel about this. Already under pressure to publish to keep their posts, the good guys and gals are doubtless preparing CVs and looking up email addresses for overseas institutions. It’s a dreadful shame.
Apparently, our city council has published a calendar. It’s not clear who has received them. Certainly mere ratepayers are unlikely recipients. But that’s not a problem as the illustrations are not of the wonderful sights and vistas of Durban but mugshots of office bearers and councillors that few would relish to have hanging in their proximity. Astonishingly though, instead of rapidly binning these terrifying documents some recipients have bothered to study the almanac and now a squabble has broken out because it seems that only ANC party members will stare out at you all year. The best remark about the spat comes from the mayor’s spokesman who lamented that “…such a wonderfully informative calendar has been reduced to a political football.”
At last we might be getting some proper test cricket as the series against India gets underway today. This should be a real contest provoking some serious yelling at the TV screen soon.
James Greener
Friday 5th January 2018