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Gabon accuses France’s Veolia of polluting amid concession dispute

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Europe, Health, Infrastructure, Politics

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

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Environment, Technology

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

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

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.

 

‘END OF STAGE ONE’

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

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Technology

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

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

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

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business, Economy, Health, Mining

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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Nigerian state oil firm spent $5.8 bln on fuel imports since late 2017

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

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s state oil firm said on Tuesday it had spent $5.8 billion on fuel imports since late 2017, as it combats a fuel shortage that has left people queuing for hours at filling stations and hobbled an already-struggling economy.

“The corporation’s intervention became necessary following the inability of the major and independent marketers to import the product because of the high landing cost which made cost recovery and profitability difficult,” the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said in a statement.

The price of gasoline is a highly charged subject in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil exporter. President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 raised the top gasoline price to 145 naira ($0.4603) per litre, a 67 percent hike, but did not remove a cap for fear of hurting people on low incomes.

The price cap makes it tough for many importers to profit from gasoline and NNPC has imported as much as 90 percent of the nation’s gasoline needs over the past year. Fuel shortages have gripped much of the country in the last few months.

An economic body that advises Nigeria’s government has been in discussion with the state oil company to determine whether gasoline is appropriately priced in the country, a state governor said last week.

The relatively cheaper cost of Nigerian fuel combined with crude oil price rises in the last few months mean smugglers can make more money selling fuel intended for the Nigerian market across borders, creating shortages in the West African giant.

Nigeria’s refining system means it is almost wholly reliant on imports for the 40 million litres per day of gasoline it consumes.

Efforts by Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, to end expensive subsidies in 2012 led to riots in the streets because the move would have doubled gasoline prices, angering citizens who see cheap pump prices as the only benefit from living in an oil-rich country

(Reporting by Paul Carsten, editing by David Evans)

 

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11 Arab Companies Make Forbes Global 2000 Top Growth Champions List

Comments (0) Business, Middle East

forbes

The world’s biggest and most powerful companies are ranked yearly by sales, profits, assets, and market value and ranked in the Forbes Global 2000. This year, Forbes worked with database company Statista to look at the compound annual growth rate of revenues, from 2013 to 2016, for all 2000 companies and converted figures into US dollars. The growth rates were then ranked, and the top 250 companies were listed as the Forbes Global 2000 Top Growth Champions.

While no Arab company made it into the top 250 companies that made the Best Employers, Top Regarded Companies, or Top Multinational Performers list, 11 Arab companies did leave their mark on the 250 Top Growth Champions list. Of the 11 companies, five are from Saudi Arabia, four are from the United Arab Emirates, two companies are from Qatar, and one is situated in Lebanon.

UAE Leads the Way

Heading the Top Growth Champions list is the UAE’s residential and commercial development company, Damac Properties. Situated in Dubai, the luxury real estate company delivers upscale properties across the Middle East and the United Kingdom. As of May 2017, Demac Properties had a market capitalization of $4.7 billion. It had total assets of $6.92 billion, and a gross debt of $1.36 billion. With 55 million square feet of property development in planning or progress, including more than 13,000 hotel rooms and more than 19,000 employees, Demac earned $1.63 billion at the end of Q3 2017, 13% higher than in 2016.

With Expo 2020 set to increase demand for real estate in the region, Demac’s performance was attributed to continued demand for its projects. Demac recently reported more than 80% of its hotel apartment projects in New Dubai and Dubai South have sold out. It runs the only Trump brand golf club in the Middle East, and the company has also been chosen by the Oman Government to develop its $1 billion Port Sultan Qaboos waterfront project. Although revenues fell slightly in 2016, the real estate market in the region has stabilized according to Demac’s CFO Adil Taqi, and sales for the first six months of 2017 are up 4% over the same period in 2016.

Top Growth Middle Eastern Companies

The other Middle Eastern companies that made the list included Saudi owned real estate firm Jabal Omar Development, which ranked number 7. Alinma Bank, also from Saudi Arabia ranked 167th, Alawwal Bank ranked 169th, Saudi Investment Bank ranked 210th, and Saudi Arabian Mining Company came in at 222nd. Other companies from the UAE included real estate and construction firm Emaar Properties, which ranked 208th, and Dubai Islamic Bank, which ranked 249th. Qatar National Bank ranked 96th and Qatari real estate and construction company Ezdan Holding Group ranked 157th. Bank Audi from Lebanon came in at number 155.  

Top Five Global Companies

Ranked second on the list is China’s largest auto distributor China Grand Automotive Services. The Shanghai based company sells more than 50 different brands of cars, including Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz. In 2016, the firm posted revenues of $20.6 billion, 45% higher than the previous year. Also from China is real estate development company, Greenland Holdings, which ranked 3rd, and Hong Kong gaming and real estate firm Melco International, which ranked 4th. Ranking 5th was Chinese delivery service company, S.F Holdings.

The top delivering US companies on the list were e-commerce company XPO Logistics, which was ranked 8th and New Residential Investment (13th), Cheniere Energy (21st), Vereit (34th) and Liberty Expeida Holdings, which ranked 34th.    

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Morocco announces auto industry deals worth $1.45 bln

Comments (0) Actualites, Africa, Business

RABAT (Reuters) – Morocco said on Monday it had signed deals for 26 auto industry projects worth a total of 1.23 billion euros ($1.45 billion) as it seeks to build its position as an international hub for the sector.

The deals include six agreements with French company Renault to expand an “industry ecosystem” allowing the firm to increase local sourcing of car components to 55 percent, according to a government statement.

Renault has a large factory in the northern Moroccan city of Tangiers that opened in 2012, and an older assembly plant in Casablanca.

Another 13 of the new projects are planned as part of a manufacturing hub linked to a PSA Peugeot Citroen factory under construction in Kenitra, north of the capital, Rabat.

That plant is due to open in 2019 and initially produce 90,000 vehicles a year.

The projects announced on Monday are with companies from France, Spain, Italy, China, South Korea, Japan and the United States, and are expected to create more than 11,500 jobs, the government statement said.

Eleven of the companies will be operating in Morocco for the first time, Abdel Wahid Rahal, a senior official at the ministry for industry, investment, trade and digital economy, told Reuters.

On Saturday, officials announced a memorandum of understanding with Chinese automaker BYD to build an electric car plant near Tangier that is expected to create 2,500 jobs. They gave no details on the value of the deal.

Unlike many countries in the region, Morocco has avoided a big drop in foreign investment following the global financial crisis and the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, partly by marketing itself as an export base for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The kingdom has attracted a number of big auto and aerospace investors in recent years.

 

($1 = 0.8495 euros)

 

(Reporting by Zakia Abdennebi; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Steinhoff accounting irregularities trigger share crash, CEO exit

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Steinhoff International shares crashed on Wednesday after it revealed accounting irregularities and its CEO quit, shocking investors who had backed the rapid reinvention of a South African furniture chain into an international retail empire.

The company said late on Tuesday that “new information has come to light today which relates to accounting irregularities requiring further investigation” and that billionaire Christo Wiese, its largest shareholder and chairman, would take charge.

Steinhoff said chief executive Markus Jooste, who had been at the helm for nearly 20 years and oversaw its expansion to one of the world’s largest household goods retailers, had resigned with immediate effect and consultants PwC would undertake an “independent investigation”.

Steinhoff has been aggressively expanding in developed markets since moving its primary share listing from Johannesburg to Frankfurt in 2015, snapping up Britain’s Poundland, U.S-based Mattress Firm and Australia’s Fantastic.

Steinhoff said Wiese would “embark on a detailed review of all aspects of the company’s business with a view to maximising shareholder value”, but its South African shares slumped 65 percent to an eight-year low of 15.87 by 1120 GMT. Its stock was down in Frankfurt by 66 percent following the news.

Steinhoff has been under investigation for suspected accounting irregularities by the state prosecutor in Oldenburg, Germany since 2015. Steinhoff has said that was a tax case relating to whether revenues were booked correctly, and taxable profit correctly declared.

Reuters reported last month that Steinhoff did not tell investors about almost $1 billion in transactions with a related company, despite laws that some experts believe require it to do so.

It is unclear what accounting irregularities the company was referring to in its statement on Wednesday. A spokesman declined further comment and attempts by Reuters to contact Jooste were not successful.

The development had wider repurcussions too, with the chief executive of Steinhoff African Retail (STAR), part of Steinhoff which includes the control of Shoprite, also resigning on Wednesday and its shares falling 21.5 percent to 19.30 rand by 0855 GMT.

“In light of these developments at Steinhoff, STAR’s existing CEO, Ben la Grange has decided to step down as CEO of STAR,” the company said.

 

TAX RATE QUESTIONS

Analysts have long questioned how Steinhoff managed to achieve such a low tax rate. Its tax rate has averaged 12 percent over the past five years — half the headline corporate tax rate in its main markets and less than half the rates paid by listed competitors including France’s Casino, Germany’s Metro AG and South Africa’s Woolworths.

Experts say such low tax rates can be the result of complex corporate structures which stretch accounting rules and such arrangements are occasionally challenged by courts as unlawful.

“The company recorded a very unusual tax rate of c. 15 percent and also guided that this would be the rate going forward,” Juergen Kolb, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux, said in a note, adding that if this tax rate was at risk it could also hit Steinhoff’s cashflow.

Kolb also raised the possibility that as chairman, Wiese’s role could now come under scrutiny too.

Steinhoff did not respond to requests for information about what, if anything, Wiese knew about the accounting problems now being investigated before Tuesday.

Investors also told Reuters they are concerned Wiese may be forced to sell shares he bought last year with borrowed money.

Wiese borrowed 1.6 billion euros ($1.9 billion) to buy additional Steinhoff shares through a family trust in September 2016, pledging 3.2 billion euros of his existing holding as security to the investment banks that lent the money.

With the share price plunge taking the security below the value of the loan, Wiese may be required by the financing banks — Citi, Goldman, HSBC and Nomura — to post more shares as collateral, or sell part of his holding.

($1 = 0.8459 euros)

 

(By TJ Strydom. Reporting by TJ Strydom; additional reporting by Tanisha Heiberg, Tom Bergin and Alasdair Pal; writing by Alexander Smith; editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Keith Weir)

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