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South Africa’s private-sector activity slows in November: PMI

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JOHANNESBURG, Dec 5 (Reuters) – South African private sector activity slowed in November as new orders and output fell, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The Standard Bank Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), compiled by IHS Markit, fell to 48.8 in November from 49.6 in October, staying below the 50 mark that separates expansion from

contraction.

“Lower underlying demand formed the basis for the decline as new orders fell at the quickest pace observed since early 2016.

This led output to fall, and at a faster rate than that noted in the previous month,” IHS Markit said in a statement.

South Africa’s economic gloom has been compounded by allegations of corruption in state-owned companies and of influence-peddling in government that have hurt investor confidence.

The ruling African National Congress will this month elect a successor to President Jacob Zuma as party chief, adding to the climate of uncertainty.

“Apart from South Africa’s economy being characterised by generally weak growth, we note that the rating agency review on November 24th and the upcoming ANC elective conference will have

delayed production and consumption decisions,” Standard Bank economist Kim Silberman said.

S&P Global Ratings downgraded South African debt to junk status on Nov. 24, citing its deteriorating economic outlook and public finances. Moody’s put the country on review for a

downgrade.

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Africa’s major central banks embarking on policy easing cycle ride

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By Vuyani Ndaba

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Africa’s major central banks are entering an easing cycle as they try to stimulate growth after months of drought, austerity drives and confidence issues across the continent, a Reuters poll found on Thursday.

Much of southern and eastern Africa is still recovering after an El NiƱo-related drought wilted crops last year. Poor business confidence in South Africa and foreign exchange restrictions in Nigeria have also hampered growth.

“We expect that African monetary policy is entering a widespread and protracted period of policy easing. This will provide a boost to growth,” said John Ashbourne, Africa analyst at Capital Economics.

Ghana, which agreed a three-year fiscal discipline deal with the International Monetary Fund in exchange for aid in 2015, cut 100 basis points from its benchmark interest rate in May and is expected to do the same on Monday, putting it at 21.50 percent.

Medians in the poll predict South Africa will make a first quarter trim of 25 basis points to 6.75 percent and while Kenya will hold steady on Monday it is expected to cut 100 basis points to 9.00 percent in the second quarter of next year.

Nigeria is expected to hold rates at 14.0 percent on Tuesday, and through this year, but will reduce borrowing costs by 175 basis points across 2018.

BATTERED CONFIDENCE CHIPS AT GROWTH

Aly-Khan Satchu, CEO of Nairobi-based Rich Management said policymakers in Africa’s biggest economies have lost credibility and it would be difficult to regain that.

To try to reduce demand for dollars, Nigeria banned the importing of 41 items, but that only fuelled the gap between the official and black market rates for its naira currency.

The policy, alongside a commodity price slump that hurt oil exports, has since 2015 forced its central bank to hike the benchmark rate 300 basis points to 14 percent as it tried to deal with much faster inflation and restore the currency’s strength.

Nigeria — Africa’s biggest economy — fell into recession for the first time in 25 years in 2016 but is expected to turn in growth of 1.0 percent this year and 2.5 percent the following.

South Africa is expected to expand 0.7 percent this year after escaping a six-month recession last quarter that was partly due to weak confidence and drought.

Confidence in South Africa’s economy has been sapped by the chopping and changing of finance ministers four time since the end of 2015 by President Jacob Zuma. The last change in March triggered a credit rating downgrade to “junk” status.

Kenya is expected to grow 5.2 percent this year and 5.9 percent next.

Growth slowed to 4.7 percent in the first quarter, hit by a credit slow down after authorities late last year capped the interest banks could charge on loans.

However, Ghana is expected to fare better than most, growing 6.1 and 6.8 percent in 2017 and 2018 respectively, supported by the IMF programme, recovering from 3.5 percent last year.

On Tuesday, President Nana Akufo-Addo said Ghana would not extend its three-year aid programme with the IMF beyond April 2018, but the fund urged it to do so to allow time to complete the programme’s goals.

 

 

(Editing by Jonathan Cable/Jeremy Gaunt)

 

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Mazda recalls additional 19,000 vehicles in South Africa over airbag scare

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Mazda Motor Corp. is recalling 19,000 cars in South Africa due to airbag safety concerns as the Japanese carmaker extends a global recall to cover a wider manufacturing period, its local unit said on Monday.

The recall was prompted by investigations in Japan and North America for three different types of Takata Corp manufactured airbags over safety concerns that inflators were defective.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in July that new testing was prompting Takata Corp to declare 2.7 million air bag inflators defective in Ford Motor Co, Nissan Motor Co and Mazda vehicles.

Takata air bag inflators have been linked to 17 deaths and more than 180 injuries worldwide, and the recalls will eventually cover about 125 million inflators.

 

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf, editing by Louise Heavens)

 

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Kumba Iron Ore expects surging interim profits after price recovery

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s Kumba Iron Ore said it expects half-year profits to rise by as much as 58 percent due to a recovery in iron ore prices.

Kumba, which is 70 percent owned by Anglo American, said headline earnings per share (EPS) were likely to be between 13.70 rand and 14.85 rand for the six months through June, an increase of between 46 percent and 58 percent.

“The increase in earnings for the period is largely attributable to higher export iron ore prices, partially offset by the stronger rand/US$ exchange rate,” the company said in a statement.

Headline EPS is the main profit measure in South Africa and strips out certain one-off items.

Shares in Kumba were down 1.2 percent at 171.50 rand by 0710 GMT, hit by a near 3 percent drop in China’s iron ore futures after data added to concerns about surplus supply.

 

(Reporting by TJ Strydom; Editing by Susan Fenton)

 

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Barclays Africa challenges findings on apartheid-era bailout

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Barclays Africa launched a court challenge on Thursday to the anti-graft watchdog’s findings that the lender’s South African unit unduly benefited from an apartheid-era bailout.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhebane said last month her investigation had found the apartheid government and central bank breached the constitution by supplying a bank later acquired by Absa, the retail banking unit of Barclays Africa, with a series of bailouts from 1986 to 1995.

The constitutionally mandated anti-corruption agency said Absa must repay 1.1 billion rand ($83 million) to the state.

“In reaching her finding that Absa benefited from the South African Reserve Bank financial support, the Public Protector appears to have impermissibly ignored facts and disregarded evidence provided to her,” Absa said.

The bank said in court filings it had not benefited from the central bank bailout of Bankorp because the price it paid for it took into account the central bank’s financial assistance.

($1 = 13.2500 rand)

 

(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng, editing by David Evans)

 

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South Africa considers privatisation to counter recession

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By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Mfuneko Toyana

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba laid out an ambitious 14-point programme on Thursday to wrench the economy out of recession that included the sale of non-core assets and partial privatisation of state-owned firms.

The plans to stimulate growth in the continent’s most industrialised economy appear to represent an ideological shift by the African National Congress (ANC), whose political alliance with the unions has tended to make privatisation a dirty word.

A team commissioned by President Jacob Zuma to review state firms last year recommended that some should be sold. Now the government has set a date – March 2018 – by which to roll out a “private sector participation framework”.

“All of these items that we have announced … they constitute an important intervention to restore confidence and demonstrate action, and outline an action plan that we as government can be responsible for,” Gigaba said.

The government would also reduce the number of debt guarantees to this firms, especially those extended for operational purposes, he said.

Analysts said Gigaba’s plan could face opposition.

“I’m not sure how far he is going to be able to get with this because I think ideologically there’s a lot of opposition,” NKC African Economics analyst Gary van Staden said.

“The last time I heard the ANC even talk about privatisation or even talk about sale of state owned assets on any kind of level is when Thabo Mbeki was president. It’s been a long time.”

South Africa’s economy entered recession for the first time since 2009 in the first quarter and is also struggling with high unemployment and credit ratings downgrades.

The state of the economy is adding to the pressure on Zuma, who is also facing persistent corruption allegations and increasing calls for him to stand down from within the ANC. Parliament will hold a no-confidence vote on Zuma next month.

Many of South Africa’s 300-odd state-owned companies are a drain on the government’s purse. Ratings agencies have singled out some as threat to its overall investment grade rating.

The firms, known as “parastatals” in South Africa, include companies such as South African Airways, power utility Eskom and logistics group Transnet that are regarded as central to the functioning of the economy.

Gigaba did not say what would be going under the hammer first, saying that would be determined by an audit.

BNP Paribas South Africa economist Jeff Schultz said investors would want to see more details before endorsing it as a viable turnaround strategy.

“It’s very difficult to say at this stage. He was quite cagey on what sales of non-core assets he was referring to,” Schultz said.

South Africa sold its stake in mobile phone firm Vodacom in 2015 to as part of a 23 billion rand capital raising for Eskom.

Schultz said it might try to sell similar stakes, rather than embracing formal privatisation.

“In much the same way as government sold down their stake in Vodacom, the government is looking to do similar things to try and raise some revenue in the near term,” he said.

 

(Additional reporting by TJ Strydom and Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Alison Williams)

 

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South Africa watchdog to oppose Zuma bid to set aside influence-peddling report

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PRETORIA (Reuters) – South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog will oppose a bid by President Jacob Zuma to have a report on claims of influence-peddling by him and his government set aside, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said on Monday.

Thuli Madonsela, Mkhwebane’s predecessor as Protector, released the report in November. It called for a judicial inquiry into allegations that Zuma, some cabinet members and some state companies acted improperly, but stopped short of asserting that crimes had been committed.

In December Zuma, who has denied wrongdoing and faced down calls for his resignation over a series of scandals that have plagued his administration, asked the High Court to set the report aside.

In February, Mkhwebane said she was seeking legal advice on how to proceed on the issue.

On Monday she told a news conference her office would oppose Zuma’s application to have the report set aside.

($1 = 12.7941 rand)

 

(Reporting by Dinky Mkhize; Editing by James Macharia and John Stonestreet)

 

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South Africa’s Sibanye says sacks 1,500 workers over wildcat strike

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By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African mining firm Sibanye Gold has fired around 1,500 workers taking part in a wildcat strike at its Cooke mine, it said on Thursday, prompting an angry reaction from the biggest gold miners’ union.

Workers at the mine downed tools over a week ago, angered by a company drive to root out illegal miners which has included the arrest of employees for collusion and taking food down to the illegal miners working underground.

Illegal gold mining has plagued South Africa for decades, with bullion pilfered from both disused and operating mines, and Sibanye has vowed it will clear all illegal miners from its shafts by January 2018.

The Cooke mine employs close to 4,000 underground miners and Sibanye said the sacked workers could appeal their dismissals.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the largest union in the gold mining industry, said earlier that nearly 2,000 miners were fired, including 1,100 of its members, who it said had been “wrongly dismissed.”

Sibanye said 793 NUM members had been dismissed.

NUM said they had been forced to take part in the strike in the face of coercion and intimidation from rival union the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). Last week 16 NUM members at Cooke were assaulted.

AMCU officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Located about 60 kms(35 miles) south-west of Johannesburg, the Cooke mine produces about 181,700 ounces of gold a year and brings in around 377 million rand ($29 million) in operating profit, or just over 6 percent of the group’s total.

Over 240 illegal miners have been arrested since the stoppage began. They have been forced to come to the surface because of the strike, which has emptied the shafts of employees, thereby starving them of their sources of food and water underground – an unintended consequence of the strike.

 

(Writing by and additional reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Mark Potter)

 

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South Africa’s private-sector activity little changed in May, PMI shows

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JOHANNESBURG, June 5 (Reuters) – Private-sector activity in South Africa was little changed in May from April, remaining in positive territory, as new orders and output failed to register significant gains.

The Standard Bank Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), compiled by Markit, was at 50.2 in May compared with 50.3 in April, still above the 50 mark that separates growth from contraction.

“PMI remained above 50 for the ninth month running in May, signalling the longest sequence of overall improvement in operating conditions in five years,” Markit said in a statement.

The sub-index for new orders fell to 50.1 in May from 50.4 previously. Output rose slightly to 49.9 from 49.6.

South Africa’s economic outlook has been clouded by credit rating downgrades to “junk” by two of the three major rating agencies after President Jacob Zuma fired Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in late March.

A fall below investment-grade typically constricts funding and sharply raises borrowing costs.

 

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Repo rate cut back on the cards for South Africa as inflation seen easing

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By Vuyani Ndaba

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s economic growth will be much softer this year after the country slipped into recession in the first quarter, and with inflation easing an interest rate cut is back on the agenda, a Reuters poll found.

Africa’s most industrialised nation is expected to expand 0.7 percent in 2017, 0.2 percentage points slower than last month’s median as economists trimmed growth forecasts following South Africa’s first recession for eight years.

The median prediction for interest rates shows a cut is back in the forecast horizon – 25 basis points to 6.75 percent in January or March. Some economists have pencilled it in as early as July or September this year.

In March, the consensus was for the repo rate to be cut to 6.75 percent early next year but then President Jacob Zuma changed his finance minister for a fourth time, triggering debt downgrades and leading economists to push cuts off the horizon.

But a trimming is back on the cards and Mandla Maleka, chief economist at Eskom Treasury, said the cut could come earlier than 2018.

“It will be contingent on the persuasive improvement on domestic inflation and less volatile currency. Growth – much as it is not targeted by the Monetary Policy Committee – could be the game changer,” Maleka said.

After contracting 0.7 percent in the first quarter, the economy is expected to have rebounded and will expand 0.8 percent this quarter and 0.9 percent in the third.

In contrast to South Africa, the U.S Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise its interest rate this week due to a tightening labour market and may also provide more detail on its plans to shrink the mammoth bond portfolio it amassed to nurse the economic recovery.

South Africa’s Reserve Bank does not have the fire power of bond purchases like the U.S. Fed and only targets inflation, with an aim to keep it between a 3-6 percent range.

Consumer inflation slowed to 5.3 percent in May, and is expected to average 5.5 percent this year, a change to last month’s median of 5.7 percent.

Economists are worried that debt denominated in the heavily traded rand is in serious risk of being downgraded to “junk status” this year, ejecting it from crucial bond indexes that automatically invest in local bonds and prop up demand for the rand.

However, Thea Fourie, senior economist at IHS Markit, added that lower inflation and interest rate levels could support real incomes of households.

Fourie added South Africa’s growth environment was low partially due to very weak confidence, both for investors and consumers.

“This means big ticket spending plans are delayed,” she said.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is due to hold a conference at the end of June to review policy and make recommendations on amendments or new strategies. Investors hope that will address confidence issues.

 

 

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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