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Absa Group walks high against a tough 2019

The year 2019 was altogether a tough business year for most businesses, but Absa Group Limited moved heavily against the gravity of challenging macroeconomic backdrop and the sluggish South African economy.

Absa Group known in full as Amalgamated Banks of South Africa, is a pan African financial group offering personal and business banking, corporate and investment banking, wealth and investment management as well as bank assurance. Absa group has its presence in 12 African countries and plans to open international offices in the United Kingdom and the United States. According to Absa Group audited consolidated financial results for the reporting period ended 31 December 2019 released this week, the group put up its numbers with an improvement in its revenue and with headline earnings.

Absa Group Chief Executive Officer Daniel Mminele said they delivered a resilient performance, adding that the bank managed to maintain balance sheet momentum and growth was broad-based across most businesses. The financial results also states that revenue saw an increment of six percent while headline earnings, the measure most analysts use to gauge profit, rose 1 percent as impairments increased.

‘’Our revenue growth is showing an improving trend, with strong deposit growth of 12 percent and customer loan growth of 9% for the Group,’’ said Absa Group Financial Director Jason Quinn. Overall, Absa’s balance sheet, revenue and earnings growth were in line with peers after lagging for a number of years. The Absa Regional Operations business, comprising Absa Group’s African operations excluding South Africa, delivered strong financial performance in 2019 with earnings growth of 16 percent (12% in constant currency), enhancing the overall Group’s position.

 ‘’We are pleased with the results of our regional operations and their contribution to Absa Group’s overall performance, having maintained double-digit growth and growing our headline earnings. We look forward to continuing to grow our revenue market share on the continent over the coming years,’’ Regional Operations CEO Peter Matlare said. He further noted that Absa Group is optimistic about the future and the opportunities that lie ahead united under one Absa across their African markets.

Their objective, he said, is to develop strong, digital first financial systems in a sustainable manner and to contribute positively to the development of communities in which they operate. ‘’The publication of our parent company, Absa Group’s results publishing comes just barely after the completion of our brand transition and we are excited about the journey ahead as Absa Bank of Botswana. Collectively our values and journey is one of striving  to be customer obsessed, acknowledging the strength of our people and delivering results sustainably,’’ said Keabetswe Pheko-Moshagane, Absa Bank of Botswana Chief Executive Officer.

Absa Group launched its growth strategy in March 2018 after Barclays PLC ceased to be the controlling shareholder in the Pan African banking group. The group is now working to complete its separation programme, one of the largest in the banking sector in terms of size and complexity. According to Absa Group audited consolidated financial results for the reporting period ended 31 December 2019, the regional operations recorded growth in revenue of 14 percent, pre-provision profits that grew by 17 percent as well as cost-to-income ratio that improved by 57.8 percent. While separating, ARO has grown its retail primary customer base in 2019 to 1.5 million customers.

Further, gross loans and advances grew by 7 percent to R530 billion, deposits grew by 10 percent to settle at R373 billion while non-interest income grew by 6 percent. Cost-to-income ratio saw a significant improvement from 57.7 percent in 2018 to 58.4 percent in 2019. Customer growth only saw an advance of 1 percent to become 9.7 million. The group also saw market share growth in retail deposits and retail loans and advances, including personal loans, new home loans and vehicles.

Absa Group also saw growth in corporate and investment banking, which was driven by strong performance in countries outside South Africa, which partially offset a decline in earnings in South Africa. There was a continued growth momentum in ARO with total income growing 15 percent to R7.4 billion, and also a solid income growth from corporate bank franchise of 9 percent to R10.6 billion. Absa Group also realised a strong growth momentum in the trade finance business in South Africa, with a CAGR of 19 percent in the last four years.

According to the group’s financials, ordinary dividend of 620 cents per ordinary share was declared on 11 March 2020, for the period ended 31 December 2019. The ordinary dividend is payable to shareholders recorded in the register of members of the company at the close of business son Friday, 17 April 2020.

The Directors of Absa Group Limited confirm that Absa Group will satisfy the solvency and liquidity test immediately after completion of the dividend distribution. Absa says the dividend will be subject to local dividends withholding tax at a rate of 20%. The dividend has been declared out of income reserves, and the gross local dividend amount is 620 cents per ordinary share for shareholders exempt from the dividend tax.

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Pula smiles at COVID-19 vaccine

25th November 2020
COVID-19 vaccine

A squeaky and glittering metaphoric smile was the look reflected from the Pula against the greenback this week and money market researchers lean this on optimism following Monday’s announcement of another Covid-19 vaccine which is said to have boosted emerging market economies.

With other emerging market currencies, the Pula too reacted to optimism and fanfare on the new Covid-19 vaccine against the weakening US dollar which has been losing its shine since the uncertainty laden US elections.

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Choppies high on JSE rollercoaster volatility

25th November 2020
CHOPPIES

After bouncing back into the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) last week Friday, following a year of being in the freezer, the Choppies stock started this week with much fluidity.

Choppies was suspended in both the Botswana Stock Exchange and its secondary listing at the JSE for failure to publish financial results. Choppies suspension on Botswana Stock Exchange was lifted on 27 July 2020. On Friday last week, when suspension was being lifted, Choppies explained that this came into fruition “following extensive engagement with the JSE.”

Choppies stock, prior to suspension, hit a mammoth decline in value of more than 60 percent, especially in September 2018. Waking from a 24 month freezer, last week the Choppies share price was at R0.64 and the stock did not make any movement.

However, Monday was the day when Choppies stock moved vibrantly, albeit volatile. Choppies’ value was on a high volatile mood on Monday, reaching highs of 200 percent. At noon, the same Monday, the Choppies share had reached R1.05. Before taking an uphill movement, Choppies stock slightly slipped by 2 cents. But the Choppies share rode up high and by lunch time the stock had reached the day’s summit of R2.00 and that was at 13:30 when investors were buying the stock for lunch.

The same eventful Monday saw gloom on the faces of Choppies rivals, when Choppies gained by 220.31 percent around lunch time its rivals in the JSE Food & Drug Retailers sector were licking wounds. Spar lost 2.94 percent, Pick Pay fell by 2.43 percent, Shoprite 7.52 percent and Dis-Chem 1.98 percent. The only gainer was Clicks by a paltry 0.51 percent.

In an interview with BusinessPost, Choppies sponsors at the JSE PSG Capital Managing Director Johan Holtzhausen explained that the retailer’s stock was in high demand after a long suspension. He said when a company list or a suspension is lifted the market needs to find itself on the pricing of the share.

“Initially when the suspension was lifted there were more buyers than sellers. As far as we could see this created a shortage of shares so to speak and resulted in the price at which the shares traded going to R1.20 and eventually R2.05 before finding its level around R0.80 sent from a JSE perspective.

This is marked dynamics and reflect that there are investors that are positive about the stock in the long run. This is a snapshot over a short period and one requires a longer period to draw further conclusions,” said Holtzhausen in an interview talking about the Choppies stock.

On Monday this week where the Choppies value grew by 200 percent, the stock took a turn looking down, closing the day at R0.87 from a high of R2.00. According to local stockbroker Motswedi Securities on Monday while there was no movement by Choppies in the local stock exchange as the retailer appeared on the board as 141,000 shares traded at P0.60 each.

However in Choppies’ secondary listing the stock price rallied to over 200 percent during intraday trading on Monday before losing steam and declining to around R0.87 share.

Before press yesterday Choppies opened the market with the stock starting the day at R0.80 then went flat for few hours before taking a slide downward, dropping 5 cents in 30 minutes. Choppies then went flat at R0.75 for 50 minutes yesterday before going up at 10:20 am where it nearly recovered the open day price of 80 cents, but was shy of 1 cent. From 79 cents the price went flat until noon.

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Foschini-Jet merger, a class and rivalry conundrum dissection

25th November 2020
Foschini

Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) has revealed that in its assessment of the Jet take over by Foschini, there were considerations on possible market rivalry and a clash in targeted classes.

According to a merger decision notice seen by this publication this week, high considerations were made to ensure that Foschini’s takeover of Jet is not anyhow an elimination of rivalry or competition or if the two entities; the targeted and the acquiring enterprise serves the same class of customers or offer the same products, to elude the anti-trust issues or a stretch of monopoly.

The two entities are South African retailers whose services stretched to Botswana shores.  Last month local anti-trust body, CCA, received an acquisition proposal from South African clothing retailer, Foschini, stating their intentions to take-over Jet.

South African government’s Business Rescue Practitioners earlier this year after finding out that Jet’s mother company, Edcon, is falling apart, made a decision that Foschini can buy Jet for R480 million. This means that Foschini will add Jet to its portfolio of 30 retail brands that trade in clothing, footwear, jewellery, sportswear, homeware, cell phones, and technology products from value to upper market segments throughout more than 4085 outlets in 32 countries on five continents.

However the main headache for the CCA decision which was released this week, is distinguishing the targeted and the acquiring entity businesses and services.

When doing a ‘Competitive Analysis and Public Interest’ assessment, CCA is said to have discovered that Foschini is classified as a “standard retailer” which targets middle-to-upper income consumers and it competes with stores such as; Truworths and Woolworths. The targeted entity, Jet, is on the lower league when compared to its acquirer, it serves customers of lower classes and is regarded as a discount/value retailer targeting lower income consumers or a mass market. This makes Jet to be in direct competition with Ackermans, Pepkor, Cash Bazaar and Mr Price.

“Therefore, a narrower view of the market is that Foschini through its stores trading in Botswana is not a close competitor to Jet. Additionally, there exist other major rivals who will continue to exercise competitive constraints on the merged enterprise post-merger,” concluded CCA this month.

The anti-trust body continued to explain that in terms of the Acquisition of a Dominant Position, the analysis shows that the acquisition of the target business by Foschini Botswana will result in an insignificant combined market share in the relevant market.

This made CCA reach to a conclusion that there is no case of an acquisition of a dominant position in the market under consideration or any other market on the account of the proposed transaction.

What supports the merger according to CCA is that it is in compliance with regards to ‘Public Interest Considerations’ because the findings of the assessment revealed that the transaction is as a result of the need for a Business Rescue by the target enterprise. This is so because in the event that the proposed transaction fails, it will translate into the loss of the employment positions at the target business.

“On that note the Authority (CCA) found it necessary to ensure that the proposed merger does not result in any retrenchments or redundancies. In light of this, the assessment revealed the critical need to protect the employees of the merged entity from possible merger specific retrenchments/ redundancies,” said CCA.

Before making a determination that the recently proposed transaction is not likely to result in the prevention or substantial lessening of competition or endanger the continuity of the services offered in the relevant market, CCA said it then moved into a concern for public interest which is a protection enshrined in the Competition Act of 2018.

CCA’s concern was mostly loss of livelihood or employment by 126 Batswana workers at Jet stores, stating that possible retrenchments or redundancies may arise as a result of implementation of the proposed merger.

Much to the desire of trade union or labour movements in Botswana and across Southern Africa where the Jet stores are stemmed-who also raised concerns about the retail’s workers job security- CCA subjects Foschini to keep the target entity 126 workers.

“There shall be no merger specific retrenchments or redundancies that may affect the employees of the merged enterprises. For clarity, merger specific retrenchments or redundancies do not include (the list is not exhaustive): i. voluntary retrenchment and/or voluntary separation arrangements; ii. Voluntary early retirement packages; iii. Unreasonable refusals to be redeployed; iv. Resignations or retirements in the ordinary course of business; v. retrenchments lawfully effected for operational requirements unrelated to the Merger; and vi. Terminations in the ordinary course of business, including but not limited to, dismissals as a result of misconduct or poor performance,” said CCA.

CCA also orders that Foschini informs it about all the details of 126 Jet employees within thirty (30) days of the merger approval date. CCA should also know information of when Foschini is implementing the merger, within 30 days of the approval date.

Other conditions include Foschini sharing a copy of the conditions of approval to all employees of the Jet or their respective representatives within ten (10) days of the approval date.

“Should vacancies arise in the target, the merged enterprise shall consider previous employment at one of the non-transferring Jet stores to be a positive factor to be taken into account in the consideration of offering potential employment,” said CCA.

According to CCA, in cases of any job losses, for the Authority to assess whether the retrenchments or redundancies are merger specific, at least three months before (to the extent that this deadline can be practically achieved and in terms of the prevailing and legally required employment practices) any retrenchments or redundancies are to take place, inform the Authority of:  i. The intended retrenchments; ii. The reasons for the retrenchments; iii. The number and categories of employees affected; iv. The expected date of the retrenchments.

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