Market highlights and Greenpeace sues Sasol: Charlie Cray - senior researcher, Greenpeace USA
ALEC HOGG: We end this week with some thoughtful conversations and there's more trouble, unfortunately, with Sasol.
Moneyweb columnists Jerry Schuitema and Felicity Duncan provide plenty of food for thought on two of the biggest talking points at the moment - out-of-control executive pay and the whistle-blowing phenomenon called WikiLeaks that is making politicians all over the world apoplectic with anger.
Plus we'll talk to one of the early leaders in the 2010 Make-a-Million competition, the man who banked a million rand by winning it in 2007.
The all-share dropped by 0.5%, and it was led lower by gold shares, which were almost 1% lower. Financial shares were two-thirds of a percent lower today, resources a third of a percent down.
News out of the United States is that the newspaper company New York Times continues to slump. I suppose bargain hunters have been looking for newspaper shares now for quite some years, and Warren Buffett, the Sage of Omaha, said "don't buy them at any price". Well, he's so far been right, and today the New York Times, one of the great newspaper companies fell out of the S&P 500 to be replaced by, would you believe, a little company called Netflix, which was hardly even born only five years ago. Netflix is a place where nowadays, instead of going to the video store, if you happen to be in the United States, to take out a video or CD or DVD you go online and download it via Netflix. Just shows how the world is changing in that regard.
The South African rand continues to strengthen. We were 7c stronger today against the US dollar - R6.84. That's despite some upbeat news coming in the United States, where the consumer confidence index got to about a ten-month high. But that's coming off a very low base. I guess that's the reason why there isn't too much reaction.
The gold price is at $1378 - that's been bouncing around all over the place, and was over $1400 earlier in the week.
And as far as the biggest movers on the JSE are concerned, the newly listed Mvelaserve picked up 5% today. So that was making their shareholders very happy.
And among the other big winners on the day, Phumelela was 4.5% higher. We did try to get hold of the Phumelela executive to try to get hold of news coming out of London that the company is in the market to make a bid for the British tote pool - not the Tote overall. But the reaction back from Phumelela was it's a little premature to start talking about these things. They do however herald confident interest.
Steinhoff, after yesterday's massive deal is up by 3.5%. So it's had two very strong days. Today it closed at R24.45.
Well, let's start off with news for Sasol and, boy, don't they need some good news! Out of the United States comes news - in fact from a magazine called Fast Company - that a business called OriginOil, which is a start-up, has found a way of dealing with algae that comes out of coal-plant pollution - the kind of stuff that gets chucked out by Eskom and indeed also by Sasol. By the way, the two of them, Eskom and Sasol, account for 80% of the pollution that is generated in South Africa. Anyway, this company, OriginOil, has found a way to turn that pollution into petroleum, would you believe. The share price of that company is doing extremely well, and it could be something that would help Sasol in future. I had to get some good news to give a little bit of balance, because the news from the United States generally for Sasol right now is not good.
On the 29th November Greenpeace - which I think you know very well, that organisation that has environmental activists - filed papers in Washington DC alleging that Condea Vista, the company which became Sasol North America in March 2001, had immediately prior to the South African takeover hired a private investigations firm to infiltrate meetings and steal confidential information from Greenpeace, a little bit like the Watergate scandal, to thwart Greenpeace's environmental campaigns. Moneyweb's Lindo Xulu was on top of the story and he asked Greenpeace's Charlie Cray, who is a senior researcher in the organisation's US headquarters, why Condea Vista or the guys they are going for now, Sasol, would want to spy against the organisation.
CHARLIE CRAY: ...What happened was the private investigative firm started spying on Greenpeace as a result of Condea Vista's, which is now Sasol North America, facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is a heavily industrialised community that Greenpeace organisers had been working in and working with community people directly affected by dioxin and other pollution from the plant. In fact, one of the communities was relocated as a result of all the pollution. They were essentially bought out and forced to relocate. And some of the people that we worked with have since died of cancer and other diseases. But, because they couldn't find much information on Greenpeace's plans just in that community, they then targeted Greenpeace's national headquarters in Washington DC and, over a period of two years, using sub-contractors including off-duty police officers, they essentially stole documents out of Greenpeace's trash and, we believe from inside of Greenpeace's office.
LINDO XULU: Just for context to our South African listeners, essentially what you're saying is between the period of 1998 and 2000 your offices were infiltrated, if you will, and certain documents were obtained, electronic mail networks, there were phone recordings, people infiltrated your meetings. And this was done basically commissioned by and paid for by a US corporation, Dow Chemicals as well as Condea Vista, which is now Sasol. Basically again, just for some clarity, the publication involved in the US was, of course, that was involved was Mother Jones, is that correct?
CHARLIE CRAY: Uh-huh.
LINDO XULU: And the informant then informed Mother Jones and they then started compiling this information and that's essentially how you first became aware of it?
CHARLIE CRAY: That's right.
LINDO XULU: When was the first time that you became aware of the activities that had taken place?
CHARLIE CRAY: Around April of 2008.
LINDO XULU: 2008. So that's why there is a delay in filing those papers and you filed them basically on 29th November, is that correct?
CHARLIE CRAY: That's correct.
LINDO XULU: Just in terms of the names involved, you said that there was a private security firm and that private security firm - is it Beckett Brown International?
CHARLIE CRAY: That's correct, BBI.
LINDO XULU: And most of these people, or at least most of the key executives there are former police officers or rather former officers of the Secret Service as well as the CIA - is that correct?
CHARLIE CRAY: Yes, various different agencies.
LINDO XULU: It sounds unbelievable. And they were paid to spy on Greenpeace because of some of the work that you had been conducting at the Louisiana region in Lake Charles.
CHARLIE CRAY: Yes, that's how it started and the primary clients of BBI were these public-relations firms who, once they obtained information on a whole range of Greenpeace activities, began to market that information to other companies.
ALEC HOGG: Fascinating insights there, our Lindo Xulu having a conversation with the Greenpeace office in the United States. And really, just to unpack it a little bit further, it's a company that Sasol bought. They were up to dirty tricks. They had former CIA agents going into Greenpeace, raiding their offices, trying to find out what was going on there. Another reputational nightmare for a company that really has had it rough recently. Hopefully they'll be able to come out of this one with at least some of their reputation intact.
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