Ramaphosa victory over PP; Covid-19 – Harvard, top varsities go online; Italy shuts down; Assore leaps; Sasol sinks

By Jackie Cameron

  • The Assore share price shot up more than 80% after the company, on the JSE since 1950, announced a share buy-back with a view to delisting the company. It said in a statement on SENS: “The combination of this tightly held strategic shareholding and the resultant low share liquidity, which both deters potential institutional investors and results in the share price being particularly volatile, has led the Remaining Shareholders, the Board and the Independent Board to believe that Assore is more suited to an unlisted environment, and that its continued listing provides little benefit to the strategic shareholders.
  • Sasol continued plummeting, shedding more than 13% of its value on the JSE. This means its stock price has collapsed since a year ago. The market now values Sasol at around R47bn, say analysts, but it has an estimated debt burden of more than R120bn and investors are worried that it may be forced to issue more shares to raise cash. The chemicals and energy company has been knocked hard by falling oil prices this week.
  • South Africa has virtually no oil production, so oil’s decline provides a rare measure of relief for an economy that slumped into a recession in the fourth quarter, reports Bloomberg. South Africa imports fuel and refines crude domestically to meet the bulk of demand. The cost of gasoline and diesel is often a key driver of consumer prices. Bloomberg notes oil rebounded from its worst loss since 1991 on speculation that potential US tax cuts may shield the market against the coronavirus and a price feud between major producers. Futures climbed 7.6% in New York, advancing in tandem with equities after President Donald Trump said his administration will discuss a possible payroll tax cut with Congress. Prices mostly ignored an escalating clash between Saudi Arabia and Russia, who announced substantial production increases after their pact to manage supplies dissolved acrimoniously last week.
  • South African President Cyril Ramaphosa notched up a key victory in his long-running battle with the nation’s controversial anti-graft ombudsman, when the High Court overturned her finding that he’d misled lawmakers about a campaign donation, says Bloomberg. What’s more, the High Court accused the Public Protector of exceeding her mandate. Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said in a report last year that Ramaphosa deceived parliament about a payment to his 2017 bid to win control of the ruling party and instructed legislators to censure him for violating the constitution and the executive ethics code. The president challenged her directive, saying he didn’t know about the funding, inadvertently failed to disclose it and rectified his mistake as soon as possible.
  • Harvard is asking students not to return to campus after its spring break amid coronavirus concerns and is going online. The Ivy League university is seeking to completely transition to virtual classes for all courses by March 23, when they were originally due to begin after the recess, president Larry Bacow said in a message to the community. Columbia suspended classes for two days after an individual linked to the school was exposed to the virus, while Princeton is moving classes online starting March 23.
  • Italy is considering unprecedented steps to inject money into companies and ease family debt burdens. It’s also looking to aid those who experience temporary layoffs, with a new decree on economic relief to be announced soon. Italian bank association ABI has already announced voluntary steps implemented by most of the country’s lenders. Borrowers can ask to suspend or extend repayments on medium- and long-term loans including mortgages. The group also agreed to extend accords with the main corporate associations to suspend loan repayments and extend reimbursement deadlines.
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