Business confidence boost; Medupi-Kusile sinking SA; Survé raided; Capitec buys Mercantile

By Linda van Tilburg

  • South African business confidence increased from the lowest level in more than three decades. A sentiment index compiled by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry climbed to 92.4 in September after falling to 89.1 the previous month. Improved sentiment suggests the economy, which is stuck in its longest downward cycle since 1945, may have hit a trough, the chamber said. Confidence has been boosted by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni expected plans to steady the nation’s finances in his medium-term budget policy statement on Oct 30. The government is also scheduled to detail a turnaround plan for loss-making state power utility Eskom by month-end. Higher export volumes, an improvement in new-vehicle sales and a stronger exchange rate relative to major trading and investment currencies contributed to the recovery.
  • The Rand strengthened against the dollar and was trading at R15.20 to the greenback, 0.52% firmer. But the all share index fell by 0.35%, despite a rebound in global markets after a more positive tone from China on its trade war with the US. While the platinum and gold mine indices rose by more than 2%, Exxaro stocks fell by 12.79% on the JSE, after going ex-dividend. As global tensions escalate and signs of a slowdown mount, more investors are turning to gold. Worldwide holdings in bullion-backed exchange-traded funds have expanded for 17 days in a row, the longest run of inflows since 2009. The total stash now stands less than 35 tons away from a record set in 2012, according to the latest tally by Bloomberg.
  • The Medupi and Kusile power stations are sinking Eskom and South Africa. That is according to Bloomberg who says that the plants have been textbook studies on how not to execute large infrastructure projects. Medupi’s completed dates have been pushed out until next year or 2021 and Kusile is scheduled for 2023. While Eskom’s current management and Ramaphosa’s government have sought to come to grips with the problems at the two power station. The anticipated price tag Medupi and Kusili has ballooned to 451 billion rand. That equates to Eskom’s entire current debt, a burden that has left it unsustainable and reliant on R12bn government bailouts to remain solvent.
  • The offices of the owner of the Independent Media group, Iqbal Survé were raided by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) in Cape Town yesterday afternoon. The FSCA said they were probing a case of irregular share trading against one of Survé’s companies, Ayo Technology Solutions. Laptops and devices were seized before Survé’s lawyer prevented auditors from taking any more information without a warrant. Survé claimed that the raid was politically motivated as he is about to publish sensitive information on President Cyril Ramaphosa and Public Enterprises Minister, Pravin Gordhan.
  • Capitec’s plans to purchase Mercantile Business Bank have been approved. Capitec says the purchase enables it to offer a business banking solution which is based on the same fundamentals that made Capitec successful in the retail banking sector to any small business needing a no-frills digitally led banking solution. The two banks will run independently for now with retail clients served in Capitec branches and business banking clients referred to Mercantile.
  • The talks between Europe and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a new Brexit deal ended in a stalemate. Johnson accused the bloc of adopting a tougher position and the European Council President Donald Tusk responded, accusing Johnson of playing a blame game. It sent the pound plunging. Johnson will meet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar today and he has scheduled an emergency sitting of the British Parliament for a rare Saturday sitting on Oct. 19, the day after he returns from a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. The crisis session will give MPs the chance to debate the way forward. The options are delaying Brexit, crashing out with no deal, or trying to bring down the Johnson government.