Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LISA HNATOWICZ
Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LISA HNATOWICZ

It is not even the end of the first quarter and already there is a plethora of once-significant SA companies that have either collapsed or had their share prices hit the wall.

The likes of sugar producer Tongaat Hulett, tech provider EOH Holdings, Blue Label Telecoms and Aspen Pharmacare have lost billions in value, sending tremors through an SA market still reeling from the shock of retailer Steinhoff International’s more than 90% plunge since December 2017. The latest in the sorry line-up is construction company Group Five, which went into administration on Tuesday after running out of funding.

While property and construction have suffered some of the worst declines this year, the malaise is not limited to those industries. From technology to telecommunications, retailers, consumer goods, agriculture, education and financial services, SA companies are battling with crippling unemployment levels, plummeting business confidence, instances of corporate malfeasance and a lifeless economy that expanded just 0.8% last year.

And it is not just about economic indicators. The property firms? There is deep uncertainty about land rights in SA as President Cyril Ramaphosa moves towards changing the law to clarify when the state can expropriate land without compensation.

For construction companies? Years of mismanagement, corruption and under-spending on state infrastructure have left builders without enough things to build. In the background, of course, there are consumers who are shopping less and straining under increased taxes.

SA’s economy is forecast to expand 1.7% this year, according to the Reserve Bank and the National Treasury, but this figure was produced before higher-than-estimated tariff increases were announced for cash-strapped power utility Eskom.

One ray of hope is the soaring palladium price. This has caused the shares of companies such as Impala Platinum, Lonmin and Anglo American Platinum to outperform most stocks on the 165-member FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index this year.

It is just a shame that the mining industry in SA, once the world’s biggest gold producer, makes up less than 10% of the country’s GDP these days.

While the mining counters have helped the JSE climb more than 5% this year, that is less than the gains by exchanges from New York to London, Tokyo and Hong Kong. There is an adage in Afrikaans that says “local is lekker”, meaning home is great, but so far this year, local is not very lekker at all.

Bloomberg