Die Vine Intervention. 2011 Perdeberg Dry Land Shiraz

In our latest wine tasting podcast we sip and savour the 2011 Perdeberg Dry Land Shiraz, a complex and quaffable red from Paarl.

Michael Olivier leads the tasting, with John Fraser and Malcolm MacDonald in the Johannesburg studio.

Business Confidence Falls

The RMB/BER Business Confidence Index (BCI) for the first quarter of 2014 came out today, and has fallen by two points, to an index reading of 41. This suggests that six out of 10 respondents are unhappy with prevailing business conditions. RMB’s chief economist Ettienne le Roux says business confidence has been in net negative territory for a year now. The survey was conducted between the 3rd of February and the 3rd of March and so the results do not reflect the impact of last week’s Eskom power cuts, which are likely to have further dented business confidence.  There was some improvement in sentiment in the building and manufacturing sectors, but some negative responses elsewhere.  “What stood out was the 14 index point drop in new vehicle dealer confidence,” said le Roux. “The index fell from 41 to a six-year low of 27, as a big deterioration in sales hit confidence in the first quarter.” There were also falls in confidence in the wider retail and wholesale sectors. “Slackening consumer spending stems mainly from lower income earners (those earning less than R7 000 pm), which have, relative to higher income earners, been affected proportionally more by employment cuts, loss of income due to labour strikes, the faster increase in the price of basic commodities (such as food and petrol), tighter credit standards for unsecured debt and the resultant bigger decline in their confidence,” said le Roux.  

Tweets of the day:  

Bob Kostic (@causticbob):  I lost 5 Kilos last week. Bloody sniffer dogs!

The QI Elves (@qikipedia): In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this. TERRY PRATCHETT

Die Vine Intervention: Upland Brandy

Food and wine guru Michael Olivier has discovered another smashing South African brandy – the Upland pure potstill brandy from Wellington.

John Fraser anchors the discussion and tasting in the Johannesburg Studio with journalist and broadcaster Benedicta Dube and Corlien Morris from Wine Concepts in the Blu Bird Centre.

There is also a chat about the best way to discover new wines and spirits, even for those on a budget….

Die Vine Intervention: Brewers & Union Sunday beer

Food and wine guru Michael Olivier brews a change to the theme of our wine tasting podcasts with our first beer tasting – the Brewers & Union Sunday, a refreshing but well-constructed pale ale.

John Fraser is once again joined in the Johannesburg Studio by journalist and broadcaster Benedicta Dube and by Corlien Morris from Wine Concepts in the Blu Bird Centre.

There is also a chat about the improving range of gourmet products available in ZA stores…..

Some Reflections on the Eskom Power Cuts

Driving across Sandton this morning, with hardly a traffic light working, there was plenty of time for reflection on Eskom’s announcement today of an emergency and the resumption of power cuts for the first time since 2007/08.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Eskom’s current management team has done an excellent job to date in keeping the lights on.  They inherited a utility in which there had been underinvestment by previous governments, and previous managements had failed to get the message through to the stakeholder (government)
  • Not so good has been the programme to bring in new generating capacity.  The new coal power stations are behind schedule, and government dithering over fresh commissioning – particularly of nuclear – is a disgrace. 
  • It rains a lot in South Africa.  The excuse for the current crisis – that the coal is too damp – seems, frankly, a bit wet.
  • Industrial and mining customers have absorbed many shocks in recent years, and many people do not understand the full scale of this.  The economy would be growing faster if there were more capacity.  A point with which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan agreed both on Budget Day and on Monday this week, when he attended a discussion at Alexander Forbes.
  • The state’s dominance of Eskom is daft, and there should be a far greater role for the private sector in bringing in future generation, as argued this week by the Free Market Foundation, which seems to be prepared to take the issue before the courts.
  • The current crisis may pass, but the background constraints remain.  And Eskom has shed too many senior people recently. 
  • As winter arrives, we should all be stocking up on candles, torches, gas heaters, generators.  And prayer books.

Standard Bank in Africa

ZA Confidential was at today’s annual results presentation by Standard Bank for the year to December.  Headline Earnings were up 15%;  Return on Equity has improved slightly.

Now Standard Bank has pulled out of many offshore markets to concentrate on Africa.  But today’s numbers showed that it is still making a loss in the Rest of Africa.  Headline loss rose from R209m in 2012 to a R361 million loss.  The main reason, we were told, was tax…

CEO Sim Tshabalala, suggested that despite losses in Africa, revenues are “stellar” and over time the business will become more profitable.  Standard Bank is still investing in this region, and is “well positioned for organic growth.”

He also said that Standard Bank’s key Chinese shareholder and partner ICBC is going to be transformative.  It will give access to more revenues, and will help the South Africans to play in Sino-Africa business.

Standard Bank says the digital revolution is changing the way in which consumers and businesses interact.  A truly digital bank requires a new engine and IT capabilities.  There will be new digital channels and products to support the demands of its customers and clients. Therefore it is investing in IT to renew its core banking systems. Smart mobile devices will become the medium for most crucial customer interaction. 

The presentation was well-attended and did not seem to drag.  Far livelier than the one earlier this week by FirstRand.   However, FirstRand won the hospitality race, by handing out much nicer pens, and arranging some red wine for your thirsty correspondent.  It is also doing the best of the Big 4 in the view of most of the analysts we canvassed at both presentations, with Nedbank in second place, Standard Bank in third, and Absa/Barclays Africa a sad fourth among the major banks.

Tweet of the day:  Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow): What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta #ClassicJokeWednesday

Gordhan Gunning for the High Profits in the Retirement Industry

ZA Confidential attended the ‘Alexander Forbes Leading Conversations’ event in Sandton this morning with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.   Not much of what he said took us much further from last week’s budget presentation, but we were interested to see that he was repeating one theme from the budget – the need to make it easier and cheaper to save for retirement. 
Gordhan joked to the smartly dressed business audience that they were the type of people who would most interested in the taxes on booze and cigars, and he suggested that it is time for the financial sector to make a more positive contribution to society.  He echoed his budget suggestions that over next 5-10 years we need to move to a regime for mandatory retirement savings in ZA. Gordhan suggested that the charges extracted by the financial sector from retirement savings are inordinate, and said he expects some boldness in making changes.   He warned that it is only fair that the financial sector relates to the citizens of this country in a way that will optimize retirement finds and retirement benefits, although he did caution that this could have an impact on the earnings of financial institutions.
Gordhan’s host, Alexander Forbes’ CEO Edward Kieswetter, responded that the industry is aware of the challenge and is looking at ways of offering more affordable products for the lower end of the market.
Visitors looking around the corporate HQs of financial services companies will be aware that they are wealthy, and may be forgiven for thinking that some of this could come from healthy profits on the products they offer.  Gordhan is clearly keen to see more South Africans being better able to look after themselves in retirement, and this will bring both opportunity and cost to the financial sector.   
Tweet of the day:  
Easy Cooking Guide (@EasyCookGuide):  Strength is the ability to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands and then eat just one of those pieces. – Judith Viors