SA steps in to fix Zim; palladium skyrockets, more to come; Sasol soars; Davos

By Jackie Cameron

  • Former SA president Thabo Mbeki has stepped into the Zimbabwe crisis. He held talks with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa to try and help end the nation’s political crisis, reports Bloomberg.  Mbeki, in Zimbabwe at Mnangagwa’s invitation, met Chamisa and Mnangagwa separately on Monday and will meet other political leaders today, Tendai Biti, a deputy president of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said by phone from Harare, the capital. The MDC has refused to recognise Mnangagwa as the nation’s legitimate ruler since he was elected president in July 2018 and has called for an outside mediator to help resolve its differences with the ruling party. The southern African nation is grappling with a drought, power and fuel shortages, and annual inflation estimated at 440%, the second-highest in the world. “I think it’s very important that the region comes behind the president and the country because the challenges of Zimbabwe are our challenges,” Mbeki was quoted as saying by the state-owned Herald newspaper. Mbeki mediated in Zimbabwe’s post-election crisis in 2008 between former President Robert Mugabe and then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, which resulted in the formation of a five-year power-sharing government.
  • Palladium smashed through $2,000 an ounce to a record as the metal extended a powerful annual advance driven by a sustained global deficit and some analysts expect it to power up towards $2,500 an ounce within six months. “In most cases, the cure for high prices is high prices, but not for palladium,” Tai Wong at BMO Capital Markets, is reported as saying before the $2,000 level was taken out. That refers to the notion in raw materials that a rally induces fresh output, triggering the conditions that then roll back the advance, says Bloomberg. Palladium has surged to unprecedented levels in 2019 as tighter emissions rules spurred demand for the metal used in autocatalysts, while supply hasn’t yet been able to respond, continues the news wire. Citigroup forecasts the move upward now has the potential to see prices gain to $2,500 in the first half of next year. Power outages in major producer South Africa have hurt mine operations this month, fueling gains, adds Bloomberg.
  • President Donald Trump is planning to attend next year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, according to four administration officials, while the UK’s Boris Johnson decided to skip the event, says Bloomberg. The Jan. 21-24 event in Switzerland will be an opportunity for Trump to tout his economic record ahead of the 2020 election, and it’s expected to be among few international trips as he focuses on campaigning, according to the news agency’s reporters. Trump is seeking to focus voters’ attention on job creation and booming stock markets even as House Democrats on Wednesday are planning a vote on two articles of impeachment against the president. A White House spokesman declined to comment on Trump’s travel schedule. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plans to attend the Davos meeting with Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter. A UK official told Bloomberg earlier Tuesday that Johnson and his ministers won’t attend. The prime minister won an 80-seat majority in last week’s election by promising to deliver on the priorities of ordinary British people, says the news service.
  • The Sasol share price jumped about 11% on Tuesday on news that it has fixed a significant problem in its US operations that has put a lid on output. An announcement put out on the Stock Exchange News Service, Sasol makes it clear that an important technical challenge has been resolved. Sasol said it “is pleased to announce that the LCCP Ethane Cracker is increasing production rates following the successful replacement of the acetylene reactor catalyst. The Ethane Cracker achieved beneficial operation in August 2019 but has run approximately 50 – 60% of nameplate capacity due to underperformance of the plant’s acetylene removal system. This issue has now been resolved. “The outage to replace the catalyst was successfully completed on schedule and within budget. Following the outage, the unit was started up smoothly and ethylene production rates are approximately 85 – 90% of nameplate capacity and are increasing. Ethylene quality meets US Gulf Coast ethylene pipeline specifications. “Sasol also looks forward to the completion of the LCCP Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) Unit which is being commissioned with beneficial operation expected later in December 2019. The remaining three downstream units under construction to complete the integrated LCCP site, Ziegler Alcohols and Alumina, Alcohol Ethoxylates, and Guerbet Alcohols, remain on cost and schedule as per our previous guidance,” adds Sasol.