South Africa’s rand at 2-week low as global headwinds, Fed jitters kick-in

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Politics, US

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s rand slipped to its lowest in two weeks on Thursday, succumbing to month end demand for dollars by local firms as the increasing chances of higher interest rates in the United States lured bulls back into long-dollar positions.

At 0640 GMT the rand was 0.4 percent weaker at 11.8350 per dollar, its softest level since February 14, compared to an overnight close of 11.7875.

It was the first time in more than two weeks the rand closed above technical support around 11.80, after weakening for three consecutive sessions, prompting some technical selling as well as portfolio rebalancing by corporates offloading excess rands.

Analysts said the “Ramaphosa effect”, named for the rise in investor confidence and rally in local assets after new president Cyril Ramaphosa took over as chief of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December, was now giving way to global headwinds.

“With the cabinet reshuffle out of the way, our local assets will continue to reprice in line with the global macro environment,” said fixed income trader at Rand Merchant Bank Gordon Kerr in a note.

The dollar index remained near 5-week highs early on Thursday, still drawing support after the Federal Reserve’s new chief Jerome Powell struck an optimistic tone on the U.S. economy, raising bets of at least four rate hikes by the bank in 2018.

Stocks opened softer with the benchmark Top-40 index down 0.13 percent.

Bonds were also softer, with the yield on the benchmark paper due in 2026 up 4 basis points to 8.165 percent.


(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Ed Stoddard)


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South Africa economic confidence to get a lift after cabinet reshuffle.

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Economy, Leaders, Politics

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Confidence in South Africa’s economy will get a boost after Monday’s cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa returned trusted hands to crucial budget-related ministries, a Reuters poll showed on Thursday.

Seventeen of the 20 economists surveyed in the past three days said Monday’s reshuffle would have a significant positive impact on South Africa’s economic confidence this year.

One economist said it would be very significant, while the remaining two said it would have an insignificant impact.

In that same sample, 18 indicated they were optimistic the country’s business sector would play a bigger part in job creation in the next two years. One economist was very optimistic while the remaining one was pessimistic.

“Both business and consumer confidence is likely to be boosted by the election of Cyril Ramaphosa to President of the Republic and the cabinet reshuffle that (followed),” said Jeffrey Schultz, economist at BNP Paribas in Johannesburg.

South Africa’s business confidence rose for a third month in a row in January to its highest since late 2015, on expectations the new leadership of the ruling party would stabilise economic policy, a survey showed last month.

“President Ramaphosa clearly has his sights set on improving the domestic business climate and promoting more public-private sector participation,” said Schultz.

Gross domestic fixed investment – normally capital spending, such as buying new machinery for future production – fell into a recession in 2016, recovering only slightly early last year before hitting another slump in the second quarter.

The private sector makes up nearly two-thirds of the gross domestic fixed investment contribution to GDP, although it has played a smaller role in recent years, with government pushing infrastructure projects to raise jobs.

Schultz added that it would take some time for the trust between business and the government to be rebuilt, but it was clear the new government has realised it needs business sector buy-in to get growth and reduce unemployment.

Unemployment was at just over 20 percent a decade ago and now more than a quarter of South Africa’s labour force is jobless.



Ramaphosa appointed Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister on Monday and Pravin Gordhan as public enterprise minister. All but one of the 20 economists polled singled out these two National Executive appointments as most likely to inspire economic confidence.

Both Nene and Gordhan served as finance ministers in the last administration but were unceremoniously sacked by former President Jacob Zuma.

A poll last month suggested South Africa’s new leadership would need to be prudent and creative in managing the economy to avoid a credit rating downgrade, by raising taxes without suffocating a chance for growth. [ECILT/ZA]

Moody’s is due to publish a review later this month, which economists said in February would offer the country a reprieve.



(By Vuyani Ndaba; Editing by William Maclean)

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Angola oil production declines slightly in 2017, profits rise

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LUANDA (Reuters) – Oil production for Angola, Africa’s No. 2 crude producer, averaged 1.632 million barrels per day in 2017, down from 1.72 million barrels the previous year, the chairman of the state-run oil company Sonangol said on Wednesday.

Angola has been grappling with the effects of generally depressed oil prices on its government finances but is constrained from lifting production because it is committed to OPEC-mandated cuts.

Angola is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, and it must limit output in line with OPEC’s commitment to cut output by about 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) as part of a deal with Russia and others.

Sonagol chairman Carlos Saturnino also told a media briefing that the net profit for Sonangol, which regulates Angola’s oil sector, was $224 million in 2017 versus $81 million the previous year when oil prices were lower.

It was his first briefing since Angola President João Lourenço fired Isabel dos Santos, daughter of his presidential predecessor, from the helm of Sonangol.

Lourenço took power in September and is seeking to win credibility with international investors and shed Angola’s image as an opaque oil economy with rampant corruption.


(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by James Macharia)

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Gabon accuses France’s Veolia of polluting amid concession dispute

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LIBREVILLE (Reuters) – Gabon accused French environmental services group Veolia on Tuesday of widespread pollution at SEEG, the power and water utility it operates there, amid a growing dispute over the company’s concession.

Veolia, which has already threatened legal action after the government seized SEEG earlier this month and said it would cancel its concession, rejected the accusations.

Speaking to reporters in the capital Libreville, government spokesman Alain-Claude Bilie By Nze said an environmental inspection of power and water pumping stations discovered “nearly all” SEEG sites were contaminated by petroleum waste.

“This is a very serious situation since, at this stage, aside from the obvious environmental damage, no one knows the consequences this pollution could have had or could have on public health,” he said.

He said that on top of legal penalties of up to 500 million CFA francs ($946,110) for each polluted site, Gabon would force SEEG to shoulder the clean-up costs.

Responding to the accusations, Veolia stated that the water it distributed continued to conform to World Health Organization standards and Gabonese regulations.

“It is surprising that none of the inspections of the public authorities … ever highlighted environmental damage,” it said. “The SEEG is subject to regular audits by the Gabonese authorities, more than 10 in the last 10 years.”

Negotiations between the government and Veolia over the concession broke down in October, and authorities seized SEEG earlier this month, citing years of poor service quality.

Veolia in turn blamed the government for failing to live up to its investment obligations, and on Tuesday said the state owed SEEG over 29 billion CFA francs in consumption charges and unpaid value-added tax reimbursements.

Gabon spokesman Bilie by Nze said the government had called for an audit of its 13 billion CFA consumption bill.

He rejected accusations it had neglected SEEG and said the state had invested around 1 trillion CFA francs in the company, around three times more than Veolia.


($1 = 528.4800 CFA francs)


(Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Additional reporting by Laurence Frost in Paris; Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by David Evans)

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South Africa’s AECI sees growth in water treatment after drought hits continent

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African chemicals group AECI could increase revenue from its desalination and water treatment business by up to 80 percent over the next five years after a severe drought hit Africa, its CEO said.

South Africa was declared a national disaster this month after drought afflicted Cape Town and other areas, and Kenya, Malawi, Mozbuambique and most of southern Africa have also experienced low rainfall.

AECI, which also makes explosives and announced a sharp rise in earnings on Tuesday, sees revenue growth coming from its subsidiary ImproChem, a water, air and energy management company.

“We have to manage our water a lot better as a continent and I think ImproChem can play a big role in that and that will boost sales on those opportunities,” Chief Executive Mark Dytor told Reuters in a phone interview.

Revenue from AECI’s water treatment unit rose 3 percent in 2017 to 1.409 billion rand ($121 million), Dytor said, and he expects them to rise by between 50 and 80 percent over the next five years.

Cape Town and other parts of South Africa suffering from drought have pledged to use desalination plants and underground water reserves and AECI has applied for government tenders for desalination projects in Cape Town.

Since the current drought in the Western Cape, ImproChem has sold some desalination plants in Cape Town to private sector operators, Dytor said.

“We have already sold five desalination plants, that’s into the private sector, they give from between 500,000 litres to 1 million litres a day of water that is treated from sea water,” he said.

AECI, which has business in Africa, Australia, Indonesia and South America, said its headline earnings per share rose 17 percent for 2017 to 959 cents, thanks to a global recovery in the resources sector.


($1 = 11.6680 rand)


(By Tanisha Heiberg;Editing by James Macharia and Susan Fenton)

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Sibanye clears most illegal miners from gold shafts

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Precious metals producer Sibanye-Stillwater arrested nearly 1,400 illegal miners at its South African gold shafts last year in a blitz the company says has mostly ended the practice at its mines.

Illegal gold mining has plagued South Africa for decades and it costs the government and the industry more than 20 billion rand ($1.7 billion) a year in lost sales, taxes and royalties, according to a Chamber of Mines report last year.

Sibanye Chief Executive Neal Froneman vowed last year to take the war to illegal miners and clear them from its shafts by January 2018 under the battle cry “Zero Zama”, after the Zulu term for illegal miners.

According to data provided to Reuters by Sibanye, it made 797 arrests in 2017 linked to illegal mining at its Cooke operations and 1,383 overall. The blitz peaked in June with more than 500 arrests, above the 443 arrests in 2016 as a whole.

While Sibanye fell short of its goal of stamping out illegal mining altogether, Sibanye’s head of security Nash Lutchman said based on available intelligence, “there are only about 40 to 50 illegal miners operating now, scattered across our Kloof and Driefontein operations”.

Froneman said last year the number of illegal miners in the company’s gold operations numbered “in the thousands”. Sibanye was the first South African gold miner to set itself a deadline to stop the practice.

Most zamas are undocumented immigrants from neighbouring countries who have long provided migrant labour for South Africa’s mines, but are now being laid off. The syndicates that support them and traffic the illegal metals are well-funded, well-established and highly dangerous, security experts say.



Sibanye’s drive was helped by the mothballing of its loss-making Cooke operation west of Johannesburg, which was the epicentre of illegal mining activity in its shafts.

Illegal miners gain access to working gold mines through bribery and other means, forcing companies to dispatch security teams to the shafts and to tighten entrance measures.

Sibanye spent 300 million rand last year and will spend another 300 million rand this year on access and biometric controls at the entry points to its gold mines.

“It still costs us so I don’t know if we will ever declare a victory but we are at the end of stage one,” Froneman told Reuters.

“My biggest concern about illegal mining is the corruption of our supervisors and our employees. That just sets a path for creating a rotten organisation. Everybody gets bribed and the integrity of the business just gets undermined,” he said.

Froneman admitted there was no guarantee illegal miners would not try to return, so the company needed to maintain its costly vigilance.

Security experts have said Sibanye would struggle to eradicate illegal mining completely but could reduce it by 90 percent.

Sibanye is the second South African gold producer to announce a milestone linked to illegal mining this month.

AngloGold Ashanti said it would spend up to $500 million to mechanise its Obuasi mine in Ghana.

The gold mine was rendered worthless when it was invaded by thousands of illegal miners. They were removed by the military last year and the South African company decided to revive the mine as an automated operation after a feasibility study.

($1 = 11.5400 rand)


(By Ed Stoddard;Editing by James Macharia and David Clarke)


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Google starts taking payments for apps via Kenya’s M-Pesa service

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Google Play apps and games store has started accepting payments in Kenya through Safaricom’s mobile phone M-Pesa service to boost downloads in a market where many people do not have a credit card.

M-Pesa, which enables customers to transfer money and pay bills via mobile phone, has 27.8 million users in the nation of 45 million people where Google’s Android platform dominates. M-Pesa has been mimicked across Africa and in other markets.

“This is very important to the developer ecosystem in markets where credit card penetration is low,” said Mahir Sain, head of Africa Android partnerships at Google, which is owned by Alphabet Inc.

Safaricom has 13 million smart phones on its network, most of them using the Android platform. It partnered with London-based global payments platform provider, DOCOMO Digital, to enable users pay through M-Pesa, both firms said on Thursday.

Safariom started M-Pesa in 2007, offering money transfer services between users. It has grown to allow users to make payments for goods and services through thousands of merchants.

It also allows users to save, borrow and buy insurance, through partnerships with commercial banks.


(Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Edmund Blair)


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Kenya raises $2 bln Eurobond but concerns over deficit linger

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NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya shook off a downgrade and the loss of access to an IMF standby credit facility to raise a $2 billion dollar bond at competitive yields, but market participants said on Thursday it still needs a credible plan to tackle its fiscal deficit.

Kenya received $14 billion worth of bids. It took just $1 billion in a 10-year note with a yield of 7.25 percent, and another $1 billion in a 30-year tranche with a yield of 8.25 percent, Thomson Reuters news and market analysis service IFR reported.

“They were in line with the yield curve,” said a fixed income trader in Nairobi.

The eventual yield reflected a tightening of the initial pricing area by about 30 basis points. It was close to the comparative yields for other African sovereigns like Nigeria, the trader said.

Last week, credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Kenya’s debt rating to B2 from B1 while officials were in the middle of the bond roadshow abroad, angering the government.

More bad news emerged on Tuesday, after the International Monetary Fund said it had frozen Kenya’s access to a $1.5 billion standby facility last June, after failure to agree on fiscal consolidation and delay in completing a review.

“They (the government) were able to weather the knocks of the Moody’s downgrade and the IMF issue,” said Aly Khan Satchu, a Nairobi-based independent trader and analyst.

But he warned that the government needed to convince investors it has a plan to tackle the fiscal deficit.

“People are worried about debt-to-GDP ratios and they want to see a stronger language about how this will be addressed,” he said.

Kenya’s total debt is about 50 percent of GDP, up from 42 percent in 2013. It has borrowed locally and abroad to build infrastructure like a new railway line from Nairobi to the port of Mombasa.

The finance ministry has published a plan to lower its fiscal deficit to 7 percent of GDP at the end of this fiscal year in June, from 8.9 percent in 2016/17, and to less than 5 percent in three years’ time.

Satchu said it was not enough for investors. They want to see more targeted infrastructure investments that will ensure a return, and attempts to reign in a ballooning public service wage bill and other recurrent expenditure.

“We have got to walk the talk. We are not even talking the talk yet,” he said.


(By Duncan Miriri. Editing by Katharine Houreld and Toby Chopra)

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Woolworths Holdings’ H1 profit falls on Australia arm write-down

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African retailer Woolworths Holdings Ltd posted a 15 percent fall in half-year profit on Thursday hurt by a hefty write-down charge on the value of its David Jones business in Australia and tough trading conditions in its home market and Australia.

Woolworths paid a big premium to bulk up in Australia via David Jones as part of Chief Executive Ion Moir’s ambitions to turn the firm into a leading southern hemisphere retailer, but the delayed execution of certain initiatives aimed at transforming David Jones is threatening that ambition.

“A challenging market, along with some mistakes in the implementation of new systems and ranges, has had an impact on our clothing businesses both in South Africa and Australia,” Moir said in a statement.

Australia has recorded soft retail sales growth for months as cut-throat competition, relentless price discounts and online competition sap demand for brick-and-mortar shopping.

While in South Africa retailers have struggled to grow earnings as weak economic growth and clothing markdowns by competitors hit sales.

Woolworths, which sells groceries, food and homeware, said headline earnings per share (HEPS) fell to 206.3 South African cents in the six months to Dec. 24, from 242.6 cents a year earlier, while earnings per share turned into a loss of 505.9 cents on the David Jones impairment.

Woolworths booked a non-cash impairment charge of A$712.5 million ($556.04 million) against the carrying value of David Jones as a result of the cyclical downturn and structural changes that have hurt performance across the Australian retail sector.

The retailer, which paid 21.4 billion rand ($1.84 billion) for David Jones in 2014, said the impact of these changes have been exacerbated by poor or delayed execution in certain key initiatives in David Jones.

David Jones sales were 3.3 percent lower on a comparable basis, while comparable store sales were 3.4 percent lower in Woolworths South Africa, hurt by underperformance in Woolworths Fashion, Beauty and Home.

The group declared an interim cash dividend of 108.5 cents, an 18.4 percent decrease on the prior period.

“Encouragingly, we are seeing signs of recovery now, with political change in South Africa expected to lead to increased consumer confidence,” Moir said.

South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was sworn in as head of state last Thursday after his scandal-plagued predecessor Jacob Zuma resigned on orders of the ruling African National Congress.


($1 = 1.2814 Australian dollars)

($1 = 11.6563 rand)


(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

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Sibanye-Stillwater falls into annual loss, closes dividend tap

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African-based gold and platinum producer Sibanye-Stillwater reported an attributable loss for 2017 and in a bid to preserve cash turned off the dividend flow that has made it a darling of investors

Sibanye’s share price fell 5 percent, underscoring disappointment among investors who have grown accustomed to hefty dividend payouts from the Gold Fields spin-off.

The company’s operations, including the troubled Rustenburg assets it acquired from Anglo American Platinum, delivered solid results, with the loss stemming from impairments, provisions for occupational healthcare claims, and restructuring and transaction costs among other factors.

Sibanye-Stillwater reported an attributable loss of 4.437 billion rand ($333 million) for the year ended 31 December 2017, compared with attributable earnings of 3.473 billion rand ($237 million) for the year ended 31 December 2016.

“In the near term, cash preservation is prudent and as a result no final dividend is being declared,” the company, which has given over 4 billion rand back to shareholders since 2013, said.

Sibanye initially positioned itself as a dividend play with cash flowing from mature South African gold assets that did not require huge investment, but it has been expanding into platinum and beyond South Africa, diverting its dividend flow.

Its dividend yield is now 2.882 percent, almost the same as the 2.84 percent for Johannesburg’s All-share index.

The healthcare provision has been put aside for an expected settlement in a class-action suit against six current and previous South African gold producers related to a fatal lung disease. This also hit AngloGold Ashanti’s earnings.

It was launched almost six years ago on behalf of miners suffering from silicosis, a fatal lung disease contacted by inhaling silica dust in gold mines, and is expected to be settled in a few months.

Overall, Sibanye’s operational performance was good, suggesting it will return to profits and dividends.

The company said its labour-intensive Rustenburg platinum operations west of Johannesburg – which under Amplats were loss-making and flashpoints of violent labour unrest – contributed 1.6 billion rand or 18 percent to group adjusted EBITDA.

“The Rustenburg operations have consistently delivered solid production and improved financial results, with approximately 1 billion rand in cost savings and synergies realised in the first year of incorporation, well ahead of initial expectations of 800 million rand over three to four years,” the company said.

“This is a remarkable result from assets which, before being part of the Sibanye-Stillwater Group, had been delivering significant and sustained losses for many years,” said chief executive Neal Froneman.


(Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng and Adrian Croft)

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