Covid-winners: SA retail stocks, rebars replace gold, new billionaire; interest rates; Zim closes borders

By Jackie Cameron

  • A rush by worried South African shoppers to stock up on food and vital supplies spurred sharp gains in Johannesburg retail stocks Tuesday, after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a national disaster because of the coronavirus outbreak. Shoprite Holdings, Africa’s largest grocer, jumped 13% to be among the best-performing stocks. Woolworths Holdings, a seller of high-end specialty foods, gained 7.1%. Pick n Pay Stores rose 11%, says Bloomberg. “Some people in the market have been seeing the pictures of product lines flying off the shelves, hearing about the inventory shortages that stores are having due to the panic buying and are perhaps seeing it as an opportunity,” Lulama Qongqo, an analyst at Mergence Investment Managers, is reported as saying.
  • Eric Yuan, the founder of Zoom Video Communications, has added $2bn to his net worth in 2020, the fourth-biggest increase in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a ranking of the world’s 500 richest people. After starting the year unranked, he’s now at No. 274 on the list with a $5.6bn fortune, says Bloomberg. As social distancing becomes the norm, shares of the video-conferencing company climbed 0.4%, boosting its year-to-date gain to 58%.
  • The price of steel reinforcement bar, the somewhat unglamorous but ubiquitous commodity used to strengthen concrete, has risen almost 5% over the past month in Shanghai on expectations that the Chinese government will stimulate the economy with infrastructure spend. Bloomberg says that, over the same period, gold – the traditional haven amid turmoil – has dropped more than 5% as investors sell to cover losses in other markets. Rebar’s unexpected ascent as a financial sanctuary comes as Chinese investors bet that Beijing is going to embark on a massive bout of stimulus to help prop up the country’s economy in the aftermath of the coronavirus, boosting demand for raw materials used in construction, says the news agency.
  • Central bankers in five key sub-Saharan African countries will meet on interest rates in the next 10 days as the focus turns to them for measures to shore up their economies that are expected to be hit by the novel coronavirus. One-month implied volatility for the rand versus the dollar climbed to the highest in more than eight years on Tuesday as investors bought protection against wide swings in the currency after Thursday’s policy meeting, says Bloomberg. The rising options volatility suggests there’s a great deal of uncertainty among market participants over the policy decision, it notes. Since their monetary policy committees last met, South Africa declared a national state of disaster, Ghana set aside the local-currency equivalent of $100m to combat virus-driven contagion and Kenya’s central bank dropped charges on mobile-money transactions to curb the use of cash for hygiene reasons, reports Bloomberg. Many governments have moved to restrict travel.
  • Zimbabwe and Namibia declared national emergencies on Tuesday as the coronavirus begins to spread in the region. Although Zimbabwe hasn’t officially reported Covid-19 cases, screening of travellers will be intensified and some borders will be closed. “The pandemic has reached our region and we have to escalate our response,” Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a speech in Harare, the capital. Namibia has closed schools for 30 days and banned all mass gatherings, while Zambia – which also hasn’t declared a case of Covid-19 – imposed restrictions on all foreign travel by nationals and advised people who returned from abroad to self-quarantine.