Ghosn on the offensive; Mantashe “restraining” CR ; PMI contracts; Platinum, Palladium, Gold

By Linda van Tilburg

  • Carlos Ghosn, the auto executive who fled to Lebanon last week to escape trial in Japan said he did not escape justice; he fled injustice. At his first news conference since his arrest in November 2018 held in Beirut, Ghosn said he fled Japan because he did not think he would get a fair trial. The former chairman and CEO of Nissan and Renault accused the Japanese carmaker and prosecutors of masterminding his arrest and trial. Ghosn declined to put the blame on specific government officials and said he did not think that the Japanese government’s efforts to prosecute him were orchestrated by the country’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe responded by accusing Ghosn of spreading inaccurate facts and calling on him to make his case in Japanese courts. A Lebanese prosecutor will listen to Ghosn’s testimony tomorrow after receiving a Red Notice from Interpol, the international police organisation. Interpol has placed Ghosn on their most wanted list but could apparently not find a photo of him. They have a blank, grey silhouette instead of his face that has appeared in media all over the world. More of Ghosn’s daring escape on the Biznews website.
  • Absa’s Purchasing Manager Index fell deeper into contraction in December to 45.9 from 47.4 in the previous month. That compares with 67.2 points at the start of 2019, a year in which factory output contracted for five straight months. The overall PMI dropped to 47.1 from 47.7 in November. The return of rolling blackouts in December “likely soured expectations,” Absa said. There is also concern that export demand could continue to falter in the first half of the new year, the bank said. The electricity-supply disruptions, persistent weak domestic demand and strife in the global economy already weighed on South African manufacturing last year. The sector accounts for 13% of gross domestic product. The sub-index tracking business activity fell to the lowest level in almost three years last month, with survey respondents blaming electricity disruptions for lost production time, Absa said.
  • The blame for the ANC government’s inability to tackle the country’s electricity crisis has shifted to Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. Bloomberg reports that the 64-year old former miner and labour union leader who is a close ally of Ramaphosa is reluctant to fast-track renewable power projects and this it says could prolong the electricity shortage, which has caused the economy to stagnate and sapped investor confidence. Increased use of solar and wind power would reduce South Africa’s reliance on coal and that prospect bodes ill for about 87,000 coal miners, many of them members of the National Union of Mineworkers – which Mantashe led from 1998 to 2006. Bloomberg quotes analyst Ralph Mathekga who says that Mantashe is restraining Ramaphosa in the interest of his old traditional allies. Sibanye Gold, the country’s biggest precious metals producer, has failed to get approval for a 150 megawatt solar plant, and many other firms have experienced similar problems.
  • After soaring 200% last year, an index of Johannesburg-traded platinum stocks has maintained its blistering pace at the start of the new year, buoyed by record prices for the palladium the miners dig up alongside their main product. The FTSE/JSE Africa Platinum Mining Index jumped 4.9% yesterday taking its advance this year to 6.5%, as palladium touched an all-time high above $2,100 an ounce, driven by strong consumption from carmakers, tight supplies and haven demand for precious metals. Northam Platinum has led its South African peers so far in 2020, rising 8.7%. Impala Platinum, the market’s best performing stock in 2019 with a 291% gain, is up 6.5%. Anglo American Platinum, the world’s largest supplier of platinum and palladium, has gained 5.8%.
  • Gold has also surged as a result of investors fleeing to safety after the escalation of US-Iran tension rattled markets early yesterday. The metal rose above the $1,600 an ounce level for the first time since 2013. The Rand recovered from its losses in the morning was trading at R14.15  to the dollar at the close of markets in South Africa as fears of an escalation in the conflict between the US and Iran receded. After an initial jolt following Iran’s retaliation by launching missile strikes against US forces in Iraq, both countries signalled a desire to de-escalate the crisis.
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