Choppies to release financials chop-chop
Choppies is running at a high speed in a race against time to avoid the risk of being delisted from the Botswana Stock Exchange Limited (BSEL) end of this month.
Release of financials remains a thorn for Choppies as many believe the retail giant is a sinking ship following explosive speculations on its financial operations, delay of financial results and a fight for shares at Choppies Zimbabwe. Earlier this week, BSEL warned Choppies to release audited financial statements for the ended June 2018 or face strict repercussions. According to a statement released by BSEL, Choppies is in contravention with the BSEL Listing Requirements and “is under threat of suspension and possible termination.”
In an interview with BusinessPost this week, Choppies CEO Ramachandran Ottapathu promised that they will release the results before the stipulated time and that the retailer will not be delisted. Motswedi Securities Head of Research Garry Juma said in an interview that he personally does not think Choppies will risk being delisted. He was confident that before the end of October, Choppies would have listed.
Choppies failure to release financial results saw the local grocer being suspended from the BSEL on 21 September resulting in its share price dropping drastically from P1.25 to 40 thebe. The suspension of Choppies took six days, and prompted a lot of activity in the JSE where its value fell by 85 percent. After the fall, the price rebounded by 22 thebe in the BSEL to trade at 62 thebe.
According to Motswedi Securities recent Weekly Financial Markets Highlights, it will take time for the retailer to recover from its crash. “…the likelihood of the stock recovering all of the losses , of which currently stand at -74.4%, in the remaining three months are very slim, considering that they have already notified the public that they expected a profit after tax decline of 20% or more in a trading statement on the 21st of September,” said Motswedi Securities.
Motswedi Securities has also observed that investor confidence in the stock has waned considerably and without any further clarification on the company’s situation, a lot of uncertainty may cloud the performance of the stock. Choppies is estimated to have lost about P1.7 billion in value following the drop in share price. Ottapathu has relieved that on paper in the past weeks Choppies would have lost almost quarter of a billion but “everything is going well operationally despite all the speculations.”
Ottapathu believes the Choppies fall in value is due to delay of financial statements which created a lot of perception and speculation in the market. A change of auditors from KPMG to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is blamed in delay of financial results and Choppies recently released a statement saying:
“The Board of Directors of Choppies Enterprises Limited advises that they have instructed management to perform more detailed procedures on verification and valuation of inventory in conjunction with the new external auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), appointed on 31 January 2018. This process will only be completed by 30 April 2018 and hence creates uncertainty regarding the impact of any potential adjustments, if any, on the results.”
Choppies share price over-punished and the JSE effect
Market researcher Juma is of the view that the Chopppies price was “over-punished” because of Zimbabwe shareholder fight and the delay of financial results. He believes that Choppies should have made a quick statement of clarification on any issue which threatens to mar its reputation or lessen investor confidence. According to him, clarity should have been made on delay of financial results and the Zimbabwe shareholder war.
Juma also stated that the Choppies share price fall in BSEL was because of the influence from the big market that is the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). Juma said Choppies fall in value was a trend set in South Africa where investors were having fears over the Zimbabwe shareholding saga and delay of financial results, the retailer was following suit of what is happening in the JSE.
Juma explained that JSE is a huge market which can influence market trends of smaller markets like the BSEL. The researcher explained the sensitivity of the South African economy which can be ‘touched by anything’ as the South African Rand also thrives in “free floating exchange rate.” He was explaining a scenario of if JSE catches flu, BSEL would catch flu too.
Choppies, Shoprite scramble for Africa
Choppies, built from humble beginnings from a hilly beef town of Lobatse, grew in leaps and bounds and became a force to be recon with for years. In 2012 Choppies listed on BSEL with market capitalization of P2.4 billion and three years later it got its secondary listing on JSE and listed about 277-million ordinary shares at R4.90 per share. After JSE listing Choppies embarked on a crusade of taking over Africa retail markets and market its presence in neighboring countries like South Africa.
But there was another bull on the kraal in Shoprite, a big player for decades, to compete with Choppies. Market observers believe Choppies has failed in the South Africa market and according to Juma, the South African retailer remains with an upper hand over the local grocer. As Choppies’ rise almost diminished the presence of Shoprite in Botswana, the case is vice versa at South Africa and Juma believes this market dynamics will take a long time to change.
Just days after the last month’s decline in Choppies market value, a South African analyst predicted in the Business Day that the fall in the local retail price could make it a target for the likes of Shoprite while Choppies was still under pressure. The analyst sees Choppies as a “small player in a big pond. Also, this publication has recently intercepted information that Shoprite may be planning to “take Choppies out of the game” by a hostile takeover following the local retailer’s market misfortunes. Information from the JSE suggests that Shoprite may be involved in “fronting for Choppies shares.” Ottapathu was not aware of such move by Shoprite and the South African retailer did not respond to our questions on the issue before press time.
However some market enthusiasts are doubtful that Shoprite sees Choppies as a rival, but it is “just an irritant.” According to observers, it is unlikely that there was anyone buying a lot of Choppies shares without buying during the past couple of days as this may be a possibility for a hostile takeover to happen.
Juma also does not buy the logic that Choppies may be up for a hostile takeover, putting his confidence on two major shareholders Ottapathu and Farouk Ismail, saying they will not let that happen so easy. He said “not now, not anytime soon.” Juma reminded how the two men build Choppies from humble beginnings to a retailer giant it is today.
Adamant and unmoved by the recent market misfortunes that happened for Choppies, Ottapathu told BusinessPost that a hostile takeover by anyone whether bigger than Choppies or small, is impossible. Ottapathu was unfazed saying business will go on like normal and financial results will soon be released in few days. Shoprite refused to comment allegation of its attempted hostile take-over of Choppies but said: “Regrettably we cannot comment on any public speculation.”
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Grit divests from Letlole La Rona
Grit Services Limited, a member of the pan African real estate group, London Stock Exchange listed Grit Real Estate Income Group is divesting from Letlole La Rona Limited (LLR), a local real estate company established by government investment arm Botswana Development Corporation over a decade ago.
The Board of Directors of Letlole La Rona Limited this week announced in a statement to Unitholders that Grit Services Limited (‘Grit’) has informed them of its intention to exit its investment in the company.
Grit has been a material shareholder in LLR since 2019. On 07 March 2023, Grit sold 6 421 000 linked units, representing 2.29% of the Company’s total securities in issue, at a market value of BWP 22 537 710.
This trade follows previous sales of 6.79% in December 2022, as communicated to Unitholders on 10 January 2023, as well as a further sale of 4.78% (representing 13 347 068 linked units) on 24 February 2023 to various shareholders.
In aggregate, Grit has sold 13.9% shareholding in the Letlole La Rona between December 2022 and March 2023, resulting in current shareholding of 11.25% in the Company.
Letlole La Rona said in the statement that the exit process will take place in an orderly manner so as to maintain stability of the Company’s share price.
The statement explained that Grit’s sale of its entire shareholding in LLR is in line with its decision to exit investments where it does not have majority control, or where it has significant exposure to currencies other than US dollar, Euro or hard-currency-pegged revenue streams.
“Grit has announced similar decisions pertaining to certain of its hospitality assets in Mauritius recently. The Company would like to advise Unitholders that it remains focused on long-term value delivery to all stakeholders” LLR said
In July last year as part of their Go-to-Africa strategy Letlole La Rona acquired an initial 30% equity stake in Orbit Africa Logistics, with an option to increase this investment to 50%. OAL is a special purpose vehicle incorporated in Mauritius, owning an industrial asset in a prime industrial node in Nairobi, Kenya.
The co-investment was done alongside a wholly owned subsidiary of London listed Grit. The Orbit facility is situated on a prime industrial site on Mombasa Road, the principal route south of Nairobi center, serving the main industrial node, the port of Mombasa and the industrial town of Athi River and is strategically located 11 kilometers south of the international airport and 9.6 kilometers from the Inland Container Depot.
Grit shareholding in Letlole La Rona was seen as strategic for LLR, for the company to leverage on Grit’s already existing continental presence and expand its wings beyond Botswana borders as already delivered by Kenya transaction.
Media reports have however suggested that LLR and Grit have since late last year had fundamental disagreements on how to go about the Go-to-Africa strategy amongst other things, fuelled by alleged Botswana government interference on the affairs of LLR.
Government through LLR founding shareholder – Botswana Development Corporation has a controlling stake of around 40 percent in the company. Government is the sole shareholder of Botswana Development Corporation.
Letlole La Rona recently released their financial results for the six months ended December 2022, revenue increased by 4% to P50.2 million from P48.4 million in the prior comparative six months, whilst operating profit was up 8% to P36.5 million. Profit before tax of P49.7 million was reported, an increase of 8% on the prior comparative six months.
“We are encouraged by the strong results, notwithstanding a challenging economic environment. Our performance was mainly underpinned by annual lease escalations, our quality tenant base and below average market vacancy levels, especially in our warehouse portfolio,” Kamogelo Mowaneng, Letlole La Rona Chief Executive Officer commented.
LLR reported a weighted average lease expiry period of 3.3 years and escalation rates averaging 6.8% per annum for the period ended 31 December 2022.Its investment portfolio value increased by 14% year-on-year to close the period at P1.4 billion, mainly driven by the acquisition of a 30% stake in OAL in July 2022.
The Company also recorded a significant increase in other income, predominantly due to foreign exchange gains on the OAL shareholder loan. “We continue to explore pipeline opportunities locally, and regionally in line with our Go-to-Africa strategy and our interest remains on value-accretive investments,” Mowaneng said.
An interim distribution of 9.11 thebe per linked unit was declared on the 6th of February 2023 for the half-year period to 31 December 2022, comprising of a dividend of 0.05 thebe and debenture interest of 9.06 thebe per linked unit which will be paid to linked unit holders registered in the books of the Company at the close of business on 24 February 2023.
Stargems Group establishes Training Center in BW
Internationally-acclaimed diamond manufacturing company StarGems Group has established the Stargems Diamond Training Center which will be providing specialized training in diamond manufacturing and evaluation.
The Stargems Diamond Training Institute is located at the Stargems Group Botswana Unit in Gaborone.
“In accordance with the National Human Resource Development Strategy (NHRDS) which holds the principle that through education and skills development as well as the strategic alignment between national ambitions and individual capabilities, Botswana will become a prosperous, productive and innovative nation due to the quality and efficacy of its citizenry. The Training Centre will provide a range of modules in theory and in practice; from rough diamond evaluation to diamond grading and polishing for Batswana, at no cost for eight weeks. The internationally- recognized certificate offered in partnership with Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Training School presents invaluable opportunities for Batswana to access in the diamond industry locally and internationally. The initiative is an extension of our Corporate Social Investment to the community in which we operate,” said Vishal Shah, Stargems Group Managing Director, during the launch of the Stargems Diamond Training Center.
In order to participate in this rare opportunity, interested candidates are invited to submit a police clearance certificate and a BGCSE certificate only to the Stargems offices. Students who excel in these programs will have the chance to be onboarded by the Stargems Group. This serves as motivation for them to go through this training with a high level of seriousness.
“Community empowerment is one of our CSR principles. We believe that businesses can only thrive when their communities are well taken of. We are hoping that our presence will be impactful to various communities and economies. In the six countries that we are operating in, we have contributed through dedicating 10% of our revenues during COVID-19 to facilitate education, donating to hospitals and also to NGOs committed to supporting women and children living with HIV. One key issue that we are targeting in Botswana is the rate of unemployment amongst the youth. We are looking forward to working closely with the government and other relevant authorities to curb unemployment,” said Shah.
Currently, Stargems Group has employed 117 Batswana and they are looking forward to growing the numbers to 500 as the company grows. Majority of the employees will be graduates from the Stargems Diamond Training Center. This initiation has been received with open arms by the general public and stakeholders. During the launch, the Minister of Minerals and Energy, Honorable Lefoko Moagi, stated that the ministry fully endorses Stargems Diamond Training and will work closely with the Group to support and grow the initiative.
“As a ministry, we see this as an game changer that is aligned with one of the United Nations’ Six Priority Sustainable Development Goals, which is to Advance Opportunity and Impact for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). What Stargems Group is launching today will have a huge impact on the creation of employment in Botswana. An economy’s productivity rises as the number of educated workers increases as its skilled workmanship increases. It is not a secret that low skills perpetuate poverty and widen the inequality gap, therefore the development of skills has the potential to contribute significantly to structural transformation and economic growth by enhancing employability and helping the country become more competitive. We are grateful to see the emergence of industry players such as Stargems Group who have strived to create such opportunities that mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 on the economy,” said the Minister of Minerals and Energy.
Food import bill slightly declines
The latest figures released by Statistics Botswana this week shows that food import bill for Botswana slightly declined from around P1.1 billion in November 2022 to around P981 million in December during the same year.
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