September 30, 2010
I was given a little booklet by Statistics South Africa entitled Stats in Brief 2009, and a very useful little document is is too. Hardly bigger than a Kindle screen, it contains in its 200-odd pages a wealth of statistical data on South Africa, from economic statistics to tourism figures. All the data in this little book is also available on Statistics South Africa’s website, but the book format, with its ease of moving between pages/sets of data, somehow enables you to make connections that are much more difficult to detect while navigating the web. For journalists, it is a veritable treasure trove of potential stories.
For example: on Page 64, you’ll find that there has been no virtually no job growth in the Eastern Cape province over the past nine years. Turn the page, and you’ll notice that there has been about 47% growth in one particular job category: legislators, senior officials and managers. Mmm. Thumb through to the section on municipal expenditure and – my, oh my – the Eastern Cape province spends more on municipal councillors’ remuneration than any other province save KwaZulu-Natal, which has about a third more people. In percentage terms, the Eastern Cape muncipalities devoted 4.4% of their expenditure to councillors’ salaries in 2008, compared with a mere 0.8% in Gauteng, and up from 2.8% in 2001. Now if service delivery only improved at a similar rate…
Kudos to Stats SA for making this sort of informaiton available in such a user-friendly format.
May 7, 2010
What a great example of financial writing from the New York Times’ Floyd Norris, who lifts the normally humdrum market story to new heights:
Combine one part nervous traders, one part Greek crisis and one part trader error. Stir in one part central bank complacency. Bring to boil. Panic.
Read the full story here.
February 23, 2010
So Old Mutual has slapped a for-sale sign on its US business. Speculation is rife that the insurer may also offload its European business Skandia, to concentrate on expanding its presence in Africa.
Wouldn’t that be a rich irony? After pouring billions of rand down the drain in disastrous overseas ventures, the geniuses who run Old Mutual may find themselves back where they started: at the helm of a (highly profitable) South African life insurer.
The share price tells the story: reacting to the news of the planned sale, it jacked up more than 3% to R13.22, what it was at the IPO. If you bought Old Mutual shares five years ago – in the midst of one of the biggest market booms in history – you would still be down 10% today. If you’d bought Sanlam, which chose to stay in South Africa, you’d be 85% better off.
February 12, 2010
Business Day is a great newspaper and a must-read for me every day. Strong on news, great on opinion and analysis – but boy, when is it going to move into the digital age?
More than three months ago, editor Peter Bruce announced the newspaper’s new online strategy. But nothing has changed: the website remains a mess. Still having Monday’s column by your editor as the headline piece on your opinion and analysis page on Friday is no good. And if you are going to blog, then the least you should do is post from time to time. After promising readers a daily blog, Bruce last posted on December 13, and some other staff writers seemed to have thrown in the towel after just one attempt. What’s more, there is no information about the writers on their blogs, and the blogs are in now way mainstreamed as part of the newspaper’s offering to readers. It is as if someone decided to tack on staff blogs, and then forgot about them. Shoddy.
Read the rest of this entry »
January 22, 2010
One of President Obama’s proposed bank reforms is aimed at ensuring “that no bank shall (conduct) proprietary trading operations unrelated to serving customers for its own profit.” How many newspaper readers/Twitter followers/television viewers/etc would know what that means?
Here’s Daniel Gross of Slate’s paraphrase:
“In English: No federally backed bank will be allowed to use other people’s money to take big risks, reap most of the rewards, and suffer minimal consequences if the investments fail.”
Funny how things suddenly make so much sense if you say them in plain English.
November 9, 2009
After weakening briefly in the wake of the mid-term budget speech, the rand as back to R7.44 per dollar, a rate at which our economy is going to find it very difficult to stage a strong recovery. Lower interest rates made no difference. Relaxing exchange controls didn’t bring about the expected rand-weakening capital outflows. Not even a raft of idiotic policy pronoucements by the likes of Julius Malema, coupled with turf battles between the left and right over who controls economic policy, have dented the currency. What to do now?
Short of firing Pravin Gorhan, making Malema minister of finance, and nationalising the mines and banks, the only answer is: more decisive intervention in the foreign exchange markets by the Reserve Bank. Buy, buy, buy dollars.
October 30, 2009
Never accuse the ANC Youth League of a lack of ambition. In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, secretary-general Vuyiswa Tulelo said the league wasn’t planning to stop at nationalising the mines. The mines are just the first step, she said.
“Later we will look at other sectors, including state-owned enterprises, especially rail and energy.”
Nationalising Eskom and Transnet? I though the trick was getting rid of them?
Tulelo also has advice for those who fret that the state won’t be able to run nationalised industries properly. “If you give people performance contracts, they will be forced to do better.” But that didn’t work for those who are running the soon-to-be nationalised Eskom right now…
October 30, 2009
Perhaps I’m just stupid. But could someone explain to me why food prices are still rising in the supermarkets, while prices at producer level have been falling for months?
According to the latest producer price index, the prices of agricultural products and manufactured food fell in September, in the case of agricultural products for the second month running. The producer price of processed food – that is, the price at which manufacturers supply retailers and wholesalers – is now almost 2 percent lower than a year ago, while the prices of agricultural food products have fallen on average by almost 6 percent.
In the case of some commodities, prices have plunged dramatically. The price farmers get for grain, for example, is now 22.5 percent – almost a quarter - lower than a year ago. And the price of flour is down 12 percent. Yet, in the supermarkets, the prices of bread and cereals have declined only 2 percent over the same period, according to the latest Consumer Price Index.
Let’s get this straight: the farmer is getting 22.5 percent less for his wheat. The miller is getting 12.1 percent less for his flour. The supermarket is charging just about the same for your loaf of bread.
Meanwhile, the supermarkets continue to rake in record revenues, despite the worst recession in decades. How is that possible?
October 22, 2009
In my previous post, I said that Business Day “regurgitated” Anglo American’s statement on the company’s far-reaching restructuring, which included axing two senior South African executives. Turns out I was being charitable to Business Day. The story on Business Day Online was in fact the statement from Anglo American, verbatim. The “story” was still on the website at 11:30pm.
In the meantime, competitors such as Fin24.com and Bloomberg News have killed the story. There will be nothing left for Business Day’s print edition tomorrow.
If this is the best Business Day, South Africa’s premier business daily, could do on a story of great importance for South Africa, the newspaper has to start thinking seriously about its online presence.