Investors on the JSE, sadly, are becoming accustomed to profit-performance shocks from companies that have long been regarded as blue-chip or solid second-line stocks. Still, most market watchers were left aghast at developments at agribusiness giant Tongaat Hulett — which revolves operationally around large sugar and starch operations, with its sprawling property holdings in prime land near Durban considered to be a huge performance sweetener. Tongaat, once part of the old Anglo American empire, has always been regarded as one of the stalwarts of the JSE’s food sector. But after a shock trading update rattled the market late last month, Tongaat’s status as an appetising long-term food sector investment is being seriously interrogated. Only 18 months ago Tongaat was in the same league as other well-regarded food conglomerates, including Pioneer Foods and RCL Foods. Today there is incredulous realisation that Tongaat — with a market capitalisation of about R4bn — is worth considerabl...

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