What is Anglo Hiding?

Anglo American will hold a results presentation for analysts next week, but when ZA Confidential requested the details, we were told these events are no longer open to the media. There will be an opportunity to dial in to a briefing, but that is hardly the same. I find analyst briefings useful not just for the content, but for the opportunity to interact with various players. It also helps if there is a glass of the red stuff to sustain me though the afternoon. So what should we make of Anglo American’s media ban? ZA Confidential sought the views of some of our experts….

Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits Anton Harber:

It seems inappropriate for a public company to limit media access to an event of such importance, particularly since much of the company’s communication with its shareholders and other stakeholders will come through journalists. Companies will be quick to complain if journalists don’t understand or get something wrong, but slow to accommodate their need to be present to learn more. Access at such events is not just about hearing the words; it is also about feeling the mood, hearing the tone, watching the body language and interchanges, and getting a chance to pick up nuances and subtleties on the sidelines. Preventing this is a disservice to all the parties involved and very concerning.

Founding editor of Engineering News and Mining weekly Martin Creamer:

I have always attended the presentations and have always found them useful. It will be a great pity not to have the networking opportunity.

Chris Gilmour from Absa Investments (a former Financial Mail journalist):

You have touched on a pet subject of mine. When I was an honest journalist at the FM, I often found myself excluded from briefings that were attended by analysts. But in recent years, most companies have softened their approach and let journalists and analysts alike attend at will. Some have separate briefings for each category. I have never quite understood why companies do this. I have tended to interpret it as follows; corporate top management tends to feel that they have a better rapport with analysts than with journos, from the perspective that analysts can be "controlled" while journos can’t. Analysts often enfeeble their comments about companies if their corporate finance divisions have links with those companies. Journalists, on the other hand, tend to tell it like it is. Excluding journos is, in my opinion, a counter-productive idea. Journos are sensitive people (no laughing please) and often feel aggrieved when excluded or demoted to a webcast. This in turn can sometimes colour a journo’s view of a company, transforming it from objective into something less so. A better approach, in my opinion, is to embrace journalists as fully as possible and never hold back on non-price-sensitive information. Companies perceived as transparent tend to be treated professionally by journalists.

Simon Brown from justonelap.com, and TV Business Presenter:

Restricting media from results presentations only makes one wonder what is being hidden? Sure a webcast is available but that is poor second cousin to a face to face presentation- as one is unable to read body language, gauge conviction nor ask unhindered questions.

Journalist of the year Jan de Lange:

It is extremely useful to hear the questions from analysts and fund managers and the responses from management. These issues are often much more technical and complex than our own. The opportunity to discuss the issues with the person who asks the questions after the Q&A session is very valuable.

Head of News at Power fm Benedicta Dube:

At face value it looks like an ill-advised and ill-conceived decision. Not only does it handicap the journalists who are reporting on the results, but it also limits the company’s ability to network personally with the journalists covering their industry. One would want to understand the logic applied and the reasoning behind the decision.

AECI’s Investor and Media Relations Executive Fulvia Putero:

Information on matters such as the Company’s results is in the public domain once released.
The media has a role to play in terms of disseminating this information to, and interpreting it for, stakeholders. The relationship between the Company and any representative or section of the media must be built on mutual respect and responsibility. The media are invited to AECI presentations on the basis that such a relationship is acknowledged and accepted by both parties.
On the whole, this has always worked well to mutual benefit.


Anglo American is often perceived as remote and arrogant, wishing to remain distant from its ZA roots. I wonder why?

Update: Have received an invitation to a “wire/media” phone-in on Monday morning.

Tweet of the Day:

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Interest Rates Stable but Economic Growth Slows

As expected the Monetary Policy Committee of the Reserve Bank has made no change to interest rates. But what did the remarks of Governor Gill Marcus tell us about the state of the economy? Certainly, the downgrading of the Bank’s ZA GDP growth forecast for this year to just 2% was a sober development. ZA Confidential sought the views of some of our experts….

Chris Hart from Investment Solutions:

The outcome was as expected. It is clear, and they said it in black and white, that they are caught between low growth and high inflation. And tensions are building between slowing growth and rising inflation. My suspicion is that they will continue to favour growth over inflation at this stage. The reduction in the Reserve Bank’s forecast for GDP growth this year to 2% is sensible and reflects reality. At this stage it will be good if we make that result….

Russell Lamberti from ETM:
The SARB continues to adopt a tactical/cyclical lens rather than a strategic/structural lens. This is manifestly clear in the Governor’s comment that policy action going forward will become “highly data-dependent.” In other words, the SARB doesn’t really know where things are headed and so is becoming a reactive rather than a proactive central bank. At least they’re being more honest with us. This in many ways is the logical outcome for a central planning committee trying to calculate its impact on a deeply complex system with the use of one blunt policy tool. This too brings into relief its downwardly-revised 2013 growth forecasts from 2.4% to 2.0%, which is really a lagging or coincident indicator rather than a leading one per se. With only 5 months left of 2013, one must ask how relevant this projection is. The SARB sees this weaker growth trajectory moving into 2014, a sensible but not particularly prescient prediction. Of note was that the SARB Governor belaboured the point that upside inflation risks are lurking, and I think it is significant that she snuck in the term ‘core inflation’ as a surreptitious synonym for CPI in parts. That could be a red flag that the SARB is going to try ignore or try explain away rising CPI by reverting to a (hopefully for the SARB) more subdued core inflation rate. This harks back to the old CPI-X regime but looks more like pretzel-twisting in a tight spot than a firm technical policy change. It’s also very Fed-like. Bottom line: get ready for an even less predictable interest rate policy outlook. This incarnation of the SARB will keep fixed income investors jumping like cats on a Sandton hot tin roof.

Hein Kruger from Kruger International:

By maintaining the interest rate at the same level the MPC once again postponed and increased the pain that a potential unavoidable increase in short term interest rates will bring to the heavily indebted South African consumer. The lowering of the growth forecast confirms that South Africans will have to tighten their belts and roll up their sleeves in order for the economy to improve.

Andrew Golding from Pam Golding Properties:

Today’s decision by the Monetary Policy Committee meeting to keep the repo rate stable was generally anticipated by market commentators, and, taking into account the heightened inflationary risks viewed against the backdrop of a still sluggish economy, the MPC’s stance appears to be a considered and moderate approach. While such decisions depend on current economic data which is subject to influence by a variety of macroeconomic factors, including global impacts, we are of the view that interest rates will remain stable for the remainder of 2013. Despite ongoing challenges for consumers in respect of rising costs of fuel, electricity, food and property rates, coupled with a stricter mortgage finance regime, we note a certain uptick in the residential property market in South Africa in general. There is an increasing sense of ‘normality’ in the market as properties change hands on a regular basis and for the usual reasons of relocation for business or personal preference, upgrading or downscaling as individual situations change in life, first time buyers entering the market, among others.

Dawie Roodt from the Efficient Group:

The repo decision was the right one. A weak economy does need some support but inflationary pressures prevents a cut. Furthermore, SA is part of the global village now and the SARB is unlikely to hike before the majors do.


No relief for borrowers, but lenders at least have some comfort. The low growth in the economy is a worry. With a growth rate of just 2%, we are more likely to destroy jobs than to create them.

Tweet of the Day:

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Retail Sales on the Rise

Stats SA has released a better than expected figure for retail sales in May, showing year-on year growth of 6.2%. What can we read into this? ZA Confidential sought the views of some of our experts….

Chris Gilmour from Absa Investments:

Nobody out there got this one right! What is fascinating is that the updates from most of the JSE-listed retailers have, until very recently, been well ahead of retail sales growth, even allowing for the fact that the retail sales growth figure from Stats SA is a real figure i.e. after deducting inflation. But all of a sudden we are now seeing significantly more muted growth coming out of the listed retailers, as evidenced by the Massmart and Shoprite updates to end June that appeared recently. I suspect the best way to treat this May figure is as an aberration; a spike. June is likely to be significantly weaker and July should be weaker still, as the combined impact of the weaker rand, higher fuel and food prices as well as electricity and other administered tariff increases kick in. Stubbornly high unemployment will remain a factor, as will the gradual reduction in availability of unsecured credit.

Dennis Dykes from Nedbank:

The annual figure was much higher than even the most optimistic economist surveyed, and therefore will help to boost second quarter growth over the previous quarter’s very modest figure. The numbers have become very erratic. This figure comes after two very weak ones and should not be viewed as an underlying improvement in household spending but rather a ‘correction’ on earlier data. It will be interesting to see what next month’s release will hold. As far as sectors are concerned, there has been strong growth in the broader clothing category.

Christo Luüs from Third Circle Asset Management:

Real retail sales growth at 6.2% in May, was a welcome surprise. It was much higher than the consensus forecast, and the highest growth number in about nine months. However, higher fuel prices, and second round effects of these on inflation, will most likely make a repeat of such increases unlikely in the foreseeable future.


A good figure. Maybe too good to be taken too seriously? Let’s see what happens in the coming months…..

Tweet of the Day:

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EU-ZA Summit to Address Growing Trade Crisis Caused by EU Subsidies

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies briefed the media today on the economic background to this week’s summit between SA and the EU, with a stark warning of a large – and growing – trade deficit this country faces with our largest trading partner.

The culprit is agriculture – with surges in exports from Europe of products which include frozen potato chips and frozen chicken.

The EU is trying to conclude a new trade deal, known as an Economic Partnership Agreement, or EPA, with the SADC region, and in this context SA is seeking better access for our own exports of agricultural products, including processed foods.

Davies said that while trade has grown in recent years, our exports have not yet recovered to the levels of before the global recession.

The negative trade balance with the EU grew to R95bn in 2012.

“Much of the trade deficit is in surges of processed agricultural products from the EU – that gives the background for SADC EPA negotiation with the EU,” said Davies.

As well as submitting a detailed list of areas where ZA wants the EU to open up its markets, Davies noted that ZA has agreed to European demands that traditional high-quality foods from designated regions should be given protection, under a patent-like regime known as Geographic Indication.

In return, ZA is seeking similar protection for rooibos and honeybush teas and for Karoo lamb.

Of more immediate concern is stepped-up EU surveillance on ZA exports of lemons to combat a disease known as citrus black spot.

Davies expressed hopes that president Zuma will be able to make progress on this issue at the Summit, stressing that jobs in South Africa would be threatened if our export market in Europe for citrus is choked off.

Chief Trade negotiator Xavier Carim warned that the EU has set a deadline for implementation of the EPA of October next year, which would effectively mean the discussions would need to be concluded at least 6 months before that.

If not, there will be no major impact on ZA, which has its own free trade accord with the EU.

However, some of our neighbours would lose their privileged access to the EU market, in a way Davies described as “brutal.”

Davies said that the agricultural issue doesn’t involve a level playing field, as some products exported from the EU have been subsidised. This enables them to win market share from unsubsidised local produce.

Tweets of the Day:

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Why Can’t South Africans Shop Around the Clock?

Yesterday was Sunday, and if I had wanted to do some shopping, it would have been before 1pm, when my local Pick n Pay closed. With Woolworths it was 3pm. There is a nearby Spar which stays open until 8pm, and there are service stations with 24 hour shops. Why this wide range of opening times, and why can’t ZA consumers shop around the clock, as is the case in many other countries? ZA Confidential sought the views of some of our experts….

Massmart CEO Grant Pattison:

I think that this will become a reality sometime in the future, but only when the economics support it. The reality is there is are very high overhead costs to run a store in South Africa in respect of security and shrinkage control costs. The incremental turnover would need to be high to justify it. There are also issues of security and travel arrangements to be made for our employees, as the normal travel services don’t operate all night.

Nedbank CEO Mike Brown:

There is more than one reason why banks have the current opening hours. The whole banking system is designed so that every day all of the transactions are cleared and money lands in the right accounts. Historically, banks closed at a particular time to allow work to start on settling transactions. While it may appear that branches are closed, our IT centres work through the night, and this is not a trivial task. We have also experimented with longer hours and weekend banking in some branches – all moderately successful. I am not sure the economics make enormous sense – not massively compelling. There is a cultural thing – how people are used to doing things. In South Africa, for security and transport reasons, most of the hubs aren’t buzzing at night with foot traffic. Most transactions can be done via ATMs or via the internet or via apps, so most people’s need to go into a physical branch is diminishing. Security is in people’s minds- and costs after-hours go up.

Chris Gilmour from Absa Investments:

I think it highly unlikely that more than a handful of stores will go this route for a variety of reasons. There is not a culture in SA of EXTREMELY late night shopping. A laager mentality pervades Gauteng in particular, where the bulk of the South African population resides. This of course is not the situation in the Western Cape, however, where shops tend to close significantly later than the 5:30pm witching hour in Gauteng. Then there is crime. In the US and UK, where crime levels are substantially lower than in SA, it is viable to have 24-hour shopping. Here, where cash would be changing hands in the early hours of the morning, it is just too risky. This is ironic, as supermarkets typically have deliveries taking places all through the night, so the premises are often staffed and able to sell to customers. Also, shopping malls, in which the bulk of supermarkets are located, tend to close fairly early in Gauteng, in particular. The number of people wishing to shop at all hours of the night is too small to justify late night opening – other than as an adjunct to mobile customers doing impulse buys when buying fuel. Planet Fitness used to offer 24-hour gym facilities across the group but from what I can gather, this has been severely attenuated. The main reason being that there just wasn’t the demand at, say, 3am or 4am. SA doesn’t really have a very late night shift working culture that would mean people frequenting gyms or retail outlets in the small hours of the morning. Public transport hardly exists in SA beyond about 10pm, so 24-hour supermarkets would have to rely almost exclusively on people with their own vehicles or the odd itinerant shopper on foot.

Duane Newman from Cova Advisory:

24/7 Supermarkets linked to garages are a well established concept in South Africa. I am not convinced that more retail outlets will be taking up the opportunity due to the numerous risks involved including security for workers and customers and transport logistics for staff. I have personally found with my wife’s coffee shop that after a certain time in the day, the nature of the clientele changes, which increases the risk. We actually went the other way and closed earlier on a Friday due to the increased risk.


It seems that unless there is a big demand among consumers for longer shopping hours, not much change is likely. However, I continue to wonder why some malls choose to close so early at weekends, and whether there would be enough flow of customers if they were to change their hours. Maybe we should just welcome the fact that internet technology allows us to shop and bank around the clock, without leaving the safety of our living rooms?

Tweet of the Day:

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EU urges SA to Export Chicken, Steak & Chips to Europe

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy are in Pretoria next week for Summit talks with President Jacob Zuma. The EU Ambassador Roeland van de Geer today hosted a media conference to highlight some of the key issues.

He noted the importance of the relationship, as the EU accounts for 25% of SA’s exports – bigger than all the BRICS partners combined.

The Ambassador suggested that Europe wants to encourage SA to export more – he gave the example of protectionist calls from local chicken farmers, and suggested that that if local producers were more efficient they would be exporting to Europe. And meat and frozen potato chip exports should be encouraged too. “We feel very strongly that SA should look at the competitiveness of its industry. This is very fundamental,” he said.

A spat over EU restrictions on imports of SA lemons has soured relations in recent months. A disease called black spot is worrying the Europeans, but the Ambassador said the issue is in the hands of their scientists and a solution is in sight which would intensify inspections of SA lemon exports to as many as 5 inspections on consignments. Apparently this problem can be invisible when the lemons leave SA, but becomes visible during shipment. The Ambassador said it’s in everybody’s interests to resolve this as soon as possible.

The Summit itself will involve discussions on investment, unemployment, Zimbabwe, Syria, piracy off the East Coast of Africa and the peaceful use of nuclear technology. On the eve of the Summit there will be a business forum involving around 100 business leaders on each side. Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies will join EU politicians in addressing the forum.

The Europeans will launch a 100 m euro support programme in support of SA’s infrastructure, which will be topped up with loans from various development agencies.

The elephant in the room will be the still unfinished negotiations on a new regional trade accord between the EU and SADC – known as the Economic Partnership Agreement or EPA. The Ambassador remains keen to see this concluded this year, and said he hopes the Summit gives negotiators “the impetus” needed to wrap things up – although he cautioned that this is not just for SA to decide, but will be done in consultation with regional partners.

Tweet of the Day:

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Disturbing Data on Mining and Manufacturing

Nedbank’s Economic unit comments that ZA manufacturing production growth slowed to 2.2 % y-o-y in May from the unexpected 7.1 % rise in April. The April rise was the result of seasonal factors, so the slowdown in May was not unexpected. The market had expected a deceleration to 2.9 % y-o-y. On a seasonally adjusted basis, manufacturing production declined 1.7 % m-o-m in May. Meanwhile, mining data was also released. Total mining output was down by 0.7 % y-o-y in May after rising by a revised 0.7 % in April. Production was up by a seasonally adjusted 4.5 % m-o-m after increasing by a revised 2.8 % in April. What do we learn from all these numbers? ZA Confidential sought the views of some of our experts….

Mile Schussler from economists.co.za:

Manufacturing is up a lot more than people think. The adjustment to manufacturing for the year to May is up from 1,4% growth to 1,7% growth. It is looking increasingly likely that 2nd quarter GDP data will be much much stronger than thought before. The fact that March data was so negative will fall away in June and Manufacturing will increase with over 1,5% or about 6% seasonally adjusted and annualised. This will make the minus 8% seem very weak and even this gets adjusted in the new data. Mining, while down on a year ago (when mines were catching up after the impala strike action), was a little disappointing but is up month on month two months in a row and will make the June quarter strong too. Expect a major upward revision of GDP data.

Craig Pheiffer from Absa Investments:

With concerns around the slowing consumption (demand) side of the economy, the contraction in mining and manufacturing production (the supply side) over the course of May does not augur well for domestic growth prospects in 2013. Mining production did come in better than expected for the month of May and the previous month’s year-on-year growth number was revised from a negative to a positive but the fact remains that mining production is still shrinking. As we face further wage negotiations and possible strike action in the industry in the months ahead, the situation could get worse before it gets better. Mining production makes a much smaller contribution to GDP these days but it still plays a significant role in generating export revenues. Manufacturing production came in slightly below expectations but the 2.2% y/y growth rate for May is in line with the recent Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) reading of 50.4 index points recorded for the same month. The PMI reading improved in June to 51.6 points and this leads to the hope that the volume of manufacturing production expanded a bit more over the course of June. Manufacturing was a drag on domestic economic growth in Q1 2013 (GDP of 0.9% q/q) but after two months of positive data the sector could make a positive contribution to GDP in Q2 where a q/q seasonally adjusted and annualised rate of 3.3% is forecast. The softness in recent economic data could lead one to believe that further monetary policy easing is necessary, but it’s unlikely that the SARB will budge while inflation is high (admittedly still cost-push, mostly with little core inflationary pressure). An unchanged monetary policy is therefore expected to prevail for some time into 2014.

Mohammed Nalla from Nedbank Capital:

Mining production, while beating estimates, has still contracted over the month to -0.7% y/y , while Manufacturing production came in significantly lower than consensus at 2.2% y/y from last month’s 7.1%. Non-gold output rose 1.9% y/y while the gold mining sector continued to build on losses, shrinking by a massive 14.6% y/y as labour unrest and rising cost pressures compound a falling bullion price. Turning to manufacturing, a softer PMI number in May acted as a leading indicator to the lower manufacturing print today. Despite an uptick in June’s PMI released earlier this month, it remains marginally in expansion and does not paint a picture of robust health, but rather of an economy beset with structural impediments which are seeing South African industry fail to capitalise on a much weaker rand exchange rate. Persistent labour unrest is compromising the output of goods while unsustainable wage demands place additional pressures on business, eroding the sustainability of many enterprises. Constructive engagement by the private sector, government and labour is required as a prerequisite of getting the economy on track, with each player needing to look toward the greater good in order to inform a sustainable growth strategy going forward. This is likely to be elusive over the short term as political considerations rise to the fore amid an election year next year.

Coenraad Bezuidenhout of the Manufacturing Circle:

Manufacturing production and sales figures for May showed that manufacturing recovery was still fragile. In rand term, sales registered year-on-year growth of 8.5%, despite production volumes growing at only 2.2%. This is made possible by the weaker rand, which is helping to ameliorate destructive margin squeeze in low demand, high cost conditions. High domestic costs, combined with the relative affordability of capital does mean that should protracted labour unrest occur in upstream sectors such as mining and agriculture and have knock-on effects for industrial peace in manufacturing, mechanisation and imports would become an immediate threat to retaining jobs in the sector. It may also see reversals in its currently fragile growth. More robust growth in manufacturing production and sales stats would be desirable. It could result if a concerted effort was made to improve the security of our energy and water supplies, and to bring these and other publicly administered costs into line with the prices levied in key competitor markets, such as in those of our BRICS partners, and in Eastern Europe. Over the longer term, it would be crucial to maintain the access that we enjoy to established export markets, to remove red-tape and infrastructure barriers to trade with other African economies, and to drastically improve our access to markets in Asia and South America.

Gerhard Lampen from Sanlam iTrade:

The SA economy is really showing signs of fatigue. This confirms economist forecasts of GDP growth slowing to less than 2.5%, with downside risk. Research showed that the SARB is much better at forecasting GDP than economists. The SARB forecast 2.3% growth a month ago. With the looming strike season, risks are surely on the downside. With CPI expecting to breach the upper band of 6% there will be no change to interest rates. Governor Marcus will keep rates steady until end 2014. Equities remain the best asset class to be invested in.


There is little to cheer and much to ponder in the latest numbers, coming the day after the IMF cut its GDP estimate for this year for the ZA economy to just 2%. And further unrest in mining could be very troublesome indeed……

Tweet of the Day:

EricWest™ (@EricJWest): I got caught taking a pee in the local swimming pool today. The lifeguard shouted at me so loud, I nearly fell in.

Eskom in Troubled Times

After the news earlier this week that Eskom’s new Medupi power station will not be coming on stream at the end of this year, as had been planned, the parastatal today put out its financial results for the year to March, and ZA Confidential was in attendance.

It announced a net profit of R5.2 billion – a big fall from last year.

The Eskom chairman Zola Tsotsi suggested that poor performance was due to the need to keep the lights on – running assets at high levels.

He spoke of ”challenges” at Medupi, but didn’t provide much detail.

He announced that Paul O’Flaherty, who has resigned, will be leaving his post as Eskom’s finance director today – prompting speedy comment on twitter that the CFO is the fall guy for failures with Medupi.

Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba did address the Medupi delay – saying he is “extremely disturbed” by the delays beyond December 2013, which had been the most recent deadline.

He said he supports penalties being imposed on the contractors, and he said that there are questions on the security of supply, on the economy, and on Eskom’s ability to manage projects.

He said Eskom is doing better now than it did during the building of its most recent power plant in the 1980s, and he noted a lot of skills have been lost to Eskom in the meantime.

And he praised Eskom for keeping the lights on since April 2008, when there had been several months of widespread power cuts, which Eskom describes as “load shedding.”

CEO Brian Dames said that there had been sound business performance in a very tough year.

Because of the tight situation with demand levels close to supply capacity, less maintenance has been done recently than had been required, even though maintenance levels have been higher recently than in the previous year.

He noted that the most recently granted tariff increases of 16% have been lower than Eskom originally wanted, but the sluggish economy has meant a 2.8 percent reduction in electricity sale so far this year.

Eskom has had a ratings downgrade, due to its link to ZA’s sovereign rating, but Dames stressed the need to prevent a further downgrade and to maintain an investment grade rating.

All in all, it was a sober and realistic affair, not leaving me with any confidence that we will be able to avoid blackouts in the months to come, but recognising that Eskom has better leadership and political oversight than had been the case in the fairly recent past.

Snapshot: PwC Report on Executive Remuneration

Buddy, can you spare a dime? PwC today put out a report on executive director pay, and hosted a panel discussion on this issue in Johannesburg. A central theme of the report is that there is some restraint – bosses just haven’t been receiving the scale of pay rises that might have been expected.

Increases in total guaranteed packages in the year to April for executive directors across the JSE were up 4% – down from an 8% increase in the previous year.

PwC’s Gerald Seegers says that “times have been tough, and incoming CEOs are accepting lower packages.”

Adcorp economist Loane Sharp said companies should not be restrained in how they pay their executives, but should able to remunerate on the basis of company performance.

And he suggested that workers should also accept the concept of productivity-linked pay.

He disagreed with Cosatu’s Patrick Craven that workers are perfectly justified in seeking high pay rises when they see high rises in executive pay.

There was an animated discussion, with some heated intervention from leading economist Mike Schussler, who to nobody’s surprise seemed to favour Loane Sharpe’s views over those of Patrick Craven.

Tweets of the Day:

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