Flash Briefing: Bitcoin jumps 33% in week; WhatsApp hacked; Discovery, Shoprite, Vodacom, Kumba.

By Alec Hogg

Here’s your Biznews Flash Briefing:

  • One and a half billion people worldwide who use WhatsApp to make free phone calls are discovering it does come at a price. The company admitted yesterday spyware developed by Israeli company NSO Group can be installed to monitor users’ calls. WhatsApp discovered the vulnerability earlier this month. The business, which is owned by Facebook, says it is too early to estimate how many phones have been hacked by the malicious code. NSO Group, is a secretive company which sells its wares to Middle East and Western intelligence agencies. Its best-selling product, Pegasus, is a software programme that turns on a phone’s microphone and camera, picks up geographic location data and accesses the phone owner’s messages and emails. Facebook’s share price fell three quarters of one percent on the news. More on that story in Biznews Premium.
  • The share price of German chemicals group Bayer took another hit yesterday after a California court awarded $2bn in punitive damages to a couple claiming weed killer Roundup caused their cancer. Bayer acquired the liability for 13,400 cancer-related law suits in June 2018 when it bought Monsanto, the US group which owns Roundup. Since the takeover, Bayer’s share price has dropped by more than half. The enlarged group’s market capitalisation lost another 2% yesterday and is now at $59bn – even below the $66bn which Bayer paid for Monsanto in June 2018. Although legal pundits say the latest award is likely to drop after appeal into line with the $80m settlement in two earlier cases, it is still a chunky liability with thousands more plaintiffs lined up to also have their day in court.
  • The world’s largest cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, is on the hop again, the price rising above $8,000 in Asia yesterday. Bitcoin has gained a third on a week ago and trades at 130% above the low of $3,500 reached earlier this year. Bitcoin supporters are pointing to Facebook’s plans to build a cryptocurrency-based payments system; and a new project by the company which owns the New York Stock Exchange to start testing a trading platform in bitcoin futures. Reflective of the optimism that has taken hold, the market barely budged on the report from Binance, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, which said last week hackers stole $40m of bitcoin in what it described as a large security breach.
  • South African share prices edged lower towards yesterday’s close with the overall index ending 0.25% down and losing shares outpointing winners by 235 to 151. Shoprite and Discovery were features among heavyweights, gaining 3% and 2% respectively. Vodacom built on Monday’s gains with another 1.3% price improvement – helped by news of its acquisition of a controlling stake in IoT.nxt. Vodacom says the deal will significantly enhance its Internet of Things strategy. Mining group Kumba was one of the bigger losers, its shares shedding 3%, despite a trading update disclosing profits for the half year to end June would jump 160% because of the higher iron ore prices and the weaker rand. Pepkor, which issued a trading statement saying it would report profits up between 35% and 55% in the six months to end March, also got knocked, that price falling 5%. In both instances, it seems to have been a case of buy on rumour, sell on fact.