Court declares SA Covid-19 lockdown regulations ‘invalid’; Nedbank, RMB named in forex scandal; Hammerson; Sasol

By Jackie Cameron

  • A South African court has ruled that lockdown regulations implemented by the government are invalid. This was announced late on Monday by Phumla Williams, a spokeswoman for the cabinet who said that the court suspended its declaration of invalidity for 14 days, which means alert level 3 regulations remain in place for now. This development comes amid a growing backlash against South Africa’s Covid-19 containment measures – among the strictest in the world. Official modelling of South Africa’s projected mortalities from Covid-19, which started at 375,000, was last week dropped to 40,000. Nick Hudson, co-ordinator of the group of actuaries who collaborate under the PANDA umbrella said in an interview with BizNews editor-in-chief Alec Hogg that official modellers have a lot to answer for, and called on them to become transparent and share their assumptions – which he says are way off beam. Listen to the Inside Covid-19 podcast on BizNews, for more on that and all the other latest developments and insights on Covid-19.
  • Nedbank Group, FirstRand’s Rand Merchant Bank and Standard Bank Group’s Standard Americas Inc. have been added to the expanded scope of prosecution in a currency trading scandal. South Africa’s antitrust-watchdog has revived a five-year-old case against banks that were accused of manipulating trades in the rand-dollar currency-pair, reports Bloomberg. The Competition Commission has compiled a new charge sheet against more than 20 lenders that allegedly colluded to fix prices and divide markets in the currency pair, mostly in New York, the regulator has said. Bloomberg says this follows a Competition Tribunal ruling in June last year that ordered the commission, which investigates cases and makes recommendations to the tribunal, to clarify the charges. At the time, most banks said the allegations were error-ridden and too vague and contradictory to respond to. In February, the path for fresh charges was cleared when the Competition Appeals Court overturned a tribunal decision that banks without a presence in South Africa cannot be fined, says Bloomberg. The step is the latest chapter in a saga that started in May 2015, when the commission alleged that banks including JPMorgan Chase, BNP Paribas SA, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Investec and Standard Chartered colluded to rig the value of the rand against the dollar, the news agency notes. The inquiry followed a global probe into currency manipulation that was exposed two years earlier, triggering investigations in the US and the UK, and resulting in billions of dollars in settlements, it adds.
  • The Reserve Bank will not buy debt directly from the government, because it does not want to discourage the government from carefully managing its costs. South Africa’s central bank has ruled out the possibility of helping the government fund its runaway budget deficit by paying for its spending through loans. “We do not think it is prudent to finance government directly,” Kuben Naidoo, a Reserve Bank deputy governor, said on a conference call hosted by money manager Ninety One. “It would increase inflation risks. It would blur the lines between an independent central bank and publicly-elected office bearers. If we were to finance government directly, there would be no pressure on government to manage their costs in any way,” he said, according to Bloomberg. The idea of monetary financing – where the central bank buys debt directly from the government – has been touted by Willem Buiter, a former Bank of England policy maker and Citigroup Inc. chief economist, as a potential solution for developed economies pouring money into the Covid-19 fight, notes the news agency. Doing this, though, said Naidoo, removes the central bank’s role in ensuring the government remains disciplined in its spending and could mean the “entire system crumbles.” Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, who has forecast the budget deficit could swell to more than 10% of gross domestic product, said in a tweet on Tuesday that he stands by the central bank’s independence, adds Bloomberg.
  • Mediclinic International, owner of a chain of private hospitals in southern Africa, the Middle East and Switzerland, is the latest hospital group to report a net loss. Reuters points out that the company reported a net loss of £315m ($394m) for fiscal year 2019/2020 as compared with £151m loss in 2018/19. “A high degree of uncertainty remains regarding the progression of the pandemic and its full impact, which may well continue for at least the next 12 months,” Ronnie van der Merwe, Group Chief Executive Officer of Mediclinic is quoted as saying. Mediclinic, which operates 77 hospitals in its three regions, suspended all non-essential capital expenditure and the dividend for the year to preserve cash during the pandemic, it had said in a statement in April.
  • Hammerson, Sasol, Telkom surged in value on the JSE on Tuesday.
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