• Johannesburg: (068) 543-8272
  • Queenstown: (063) 434-6126
Latest Information on COVID-19: https://sacoronavirus.co.za

The year 2021 kicked off with what seemed to be a continuation of the eye-opening disruption or opportunity witnessed during 2020. News came in of the permanent closure of Greyhound and Citiliner busliners after a reported 37 years of operations in South Africa. The well-known music retailer, Musica, also suffered the same fate having to shut its doors even though their reason for ceasing operations would appear to be a lack of strategic flexibility in taking advantage of digitization when catering to constantly evolving consumer tastes and preferences.

Cashbuild CSB (JSE) on the other hand has more than doubled profits as their expansion plan continues providing potential evidence to the observation of the home improvement trend during the covid19 lockdowns where end consumers supposedly have more disposable income for the home renovations they’ve been putting off since they’re not going out and travelling as much compared to pre-lockdown conditions. This pandemic winner has, according to their website, 260 stores across the sub Saharan region with a staff complement of over 6000 employees according to Bloomberg L.P

On the other side of building materials Spur Corporation SUR (JSE) has reportedly experienced a more than 70% decline in half year headline earnings per share and the company claims it’s due to the lockdown which has also resulted in the implementation of austerity measures, including retrenchment, in response to what seems to be the financial implications of the global pandemic. In our view the main challenge for this franchised restaurant retailer is not a weakening of consumer disposable income during this unprecedented period in its history but a reprioritization of household spending during times of high uncertainty where, once again, there seems to be an apparent increase in asset investment compared to lifestyle maintenance. Perhaps it could just be the reluctance of this sit-in restaurant brand in adopting and depending on delivery services as this becomes an uncertain departure from a business model which has defined this brand since inception. Only time will tell.

In his February 6th, 2021 Miami Herald article Mario Penton writes that the Cuban government has officially given small, independent entrepreneurs more breathing room by allowing private businesses to operate in most sectors of the economy in what is being recognised as a major reform in this state-controlled communist country’s economy. The country’s labour minister, Marta Elena Feito, has apparently indicated an expansion of the list of authorised activities from 127 to over 2000. This development reportedly follows an 11% decline in Cuba’s economy which appears to be its worst decline in almost three decades perhaps not taking into account the United States sanctions introduced by the Trump administration. It's all good and well for a country’s government to allow broader participation of small business in the mainstream economy in alleviating high unemployment and poverty. What’s disheartening is that it has taken a global pandemic for those wielding power to further advance this much needed transition in assisting economic growth.

What could even be more disheartening is when powerful politicians think that they can do as they please when it comes to any entity’s corporate governance, regardless of the type of ownership. In what seems to be a classic case of ‘politicians versus big business’ is what transpired when Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro fired the CEO of Petrobas PETR4 (BVMF) resulting in a $1.5 billion over night loss for this multinational petroleum corporation. This would make any discerning investor wonder about how many jobs have been lost as a result of these developments all in the midst of a global pandemic, let alone the possible short squeeze leading to a decline in the company’s share price. These actions by a high ranking political figure provide more evidence to the notion that the decisions politicians make are at times a threat on the traditional S.W.O.T analysis but even more so a liability especially in times of high uncertainty as we are currently witnessing.

One is reminded of American senator, Ted Cruz, who decided it was a good time to take his family on a holiday to Cancun while the Texas state that he governs was going through what seems to be its first tangible and costly example of global warming by way of a record level snow fall skyrocketing the price of gas in parts of the state as reported by CNN. This apparently once-in-a-lifetime anomaly managed to cast an even brighter spotlight on climate change especially after president Joe Biden earnestly re-joined the Paris Climate Accord after assuming office. It would seem as though with all the hard worn gains there are more guaranteed losses on the horizon for this field of human endeavour called politics.

This news memo would be lacking if we did not touch on the ‘tech effect’ on our daily lives. If Facebook had not taken the decisive action it took going as far as suspending its platform in Australia after a fallout with the country’s government officials then this part would not have made the final cut. Maybe tech companies have just gotten too big for the greater good. Or it could just be that we are somehow disregarding the principal foundations of the free market and the essence of capitalism because this is what suits us at the present moment. Whatever the case may be it makes for an interesting digital future.

One of the continent’s oldest insures, Old Mutual OML (JSE), has predicted an optimistic 5% GDP growth for South Africa over the course of 2021. This is the same insurer which according to Reuters has forecast a fall of between 69% and 79% in its 2020 adjusted earnings all the while raising the company’s short term provision by R4 billion ($260.5 million) in order to pay out coronavirus related claims. Chief Economist at Investec, Annabel Bishop, on the other hand sees the country’s economic growth at 2.9% year-on-year as it recovers from the estimated -7.3% decline of 2020.

From an aged insurer to a newbie on the block Lemonade’s share price has risen over 200% according to Trevor Jennewine. This particular insurer blends big data, behavioural economics and artificial intelligence in ensuring what seems to be a cost-leadership advantage in comparison to the industry incumbents it competes against. With operations in three different European countries as well as close to 40 of the 52 American states the brand seems poised to scale up in the foreseeable future. It seemingly has ambitions of maintaining a unique selling proposition as the first P2P (peer-to-peer) insurance company in the world, according to CEO Daniel Schriber, the company seems set to make massive waves as a “purpose-built, technology first, vertically integrated and legacy-free insurance carrier”. Could this be the world’s first insurance brand that truly appreciates the service before profits paradigm as we continue to establish our footprint as digital citizens?

As Lemonade continues into unchartered territory what could be deemed as the original crypto currency to gain mainstream appeal, Bitcoin, has been gaining new highs since the beginning of the year. This might explain why this particular crypto currency has managed to gain interest from the likes of Elon Musk – who reportedly spent more than $1 billion of Tesla’s investors’ money buying the currency – and Jack Dorsy who is the current CEO of Twitter. The recent price action witnessed in the Bitcoin universe has prompted some analysts to speculate that investors who would traditionally be attracted to gold’s appeal as a safe-haven asset in times of high uncertainty are now buying Bitcoin. Some argue that the opportunity cost of holding gold is not worth the time when bond yields, the 10-year treasury note in particular, are on the rise. This view mixed with fears of higher interest rates and inflation spiralling out of control as a result of unprecedented stimulus for some analysts places gold’s history as a hedge against currency debasement in a precarious position.

On the topic of analysts we are eager to see what they deem as the next failing company to be rescued by retail investors the same way they came to the aid of Gamestop. Will this ad hoc level of co-operation become the new norm amongst retail investors heading into the future? Will this trend negate any future reliance on institutional capital the same way special acquisition listings are deemed to do away with what is seemingly becoming an outdated way of raising capital and increasing liquidity? What could be more likely is hedge funds updating their internal policies making it easier to identify this kind of threat from amateur investors. In the short to medium term we could even see special purpose algorithms designed to scan market or individual share sentiment in a similar manner the volatility index provides a sense of overall guidance for investors.

Back on the local scene Gauteng’s premier, David Makhura, announced ambitions of a township economy fund during his most recent state of the province address. This is a follow up on the township economy revitalization strategy where the Gauteng provincial government planned to allocate 30% of its procurement spend to township based businesses. According to the strategy government departments would have to prioritize purchases of goods and services below R500 000 towards the township economy. For the procurement of goods and services above this threshold departments would then have to identify commodities and projects where township suppliers would participate through subcontracting and joint ventures.

A press release from the department of economic development indicates that the strategy was informed by the feedback emanating from a township revitalization roadshow in which the Gauteng provincial government and its partners visited 65 townships between 21 July and 21 August 2014 to study and observe the township economy in its own setting. During the roadshow the provincial government officials and their partners made contact with approximately 500 entrepreneurs (including those with start-up ideas) per township. The conversation was seemingly around the nature of their existing businesses, their potential and as well as any challenges that these entrepreneurs might be facing – of which when addressed – would push the township economy into a high-growth trajectory.

Credit goes to the Gauteng premier and his staff on taking bold decisive action in attempting to address the ever present issue of inequality in South Africa. The only missing ingredient in the premier’s impressive vision, which in our view would necessitate an even greater degree of political will, is the development and introduction of an alternative currency as a modern day enabler for the township economy. This would not negate the importance of the Rand as a proxy for emerging market risk as seen by some investors but an alternative economy does require something special if it is to play a meaningful part in creating sustainable wealth for the historically marginalised.