Ten long weeks into lockdown and it’s evident that we’re dealing with two primary categories of workers. The first comprises corporate executives and public sector employees; the second all non-executive private sector employees, including those in the informal sector.
The first have guaranteed employment conditions, including wages and pensions; the second don’t. The Covid-19 lockdown highlights just how extreme are the differences between the two categories.
One different aspect of lockdown is that fully virtual AGMs already have an air of normality.
Well, perhaps not all of them. Trencor’s haven’t had an air of normality for years and, given the controversially glacially slow winding down of its existence, there was little prospect that its June 2020 AGM would be any different. It was a fractious two-hour long affair during which the board failed to answer increasingly hostile questions from a number of shareholders.
The indomitable private investor Nic Krige made corporate history as the first shareholder to be muted at a fully virtual AGM. Krige has probably secured his position in the history books by being muted a full four times during the AGM.
And then – who knew? – it emerged that Zoom has a facility to send out messages to all attendees at a meeting, even by people who’ve been muted.
“Tell them to unmute me,” said the man who might best be remembered for telling African Bank’s Leon Kirkinis, during one of his glitzy roadshows and long before anyone else seemed to have noticed, that his balance sheet was in a disturbingly precarious state. Shane Watkins of Fair Weather Capital was also muted by the Trencor board, but only once.
Despite persistent questioning, the shareholders were unable to discover precisely why such apparently generous terms were provided to a trust that lies at the centre of Trencor’s complicated structure.
It means Trencor will live on well beyond its useful life and chew up shareholder value with each passing day.
Perplexing change to JSE requirement
News that the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) had approved the JSE’s decision to exempt companies from the requirement to hold physical shareholder meetings to approve share issues for cash was perplexing. The FSCA has ruled that until December 2020 companies can use written resolutions to get the necessary shareholder approval.
First up, what has it got to do with the FSCA?
It’s a JSE listing requirement and as such entirely up to the JSE to decide whether or not it can be exempted. And then there’s the motivation for the move; to allow for a “more expeditious” cash-raising process, says the FSCA. It’s difficult to imagine how that can happen if, as the JSE has stressed, 75% of all shareholders must back the necessary resolution – not just 75% of those who respond to the written resolution. Getting 75% of shareholders of a large listed company to respond to any corporate initiative is a major, and time-consuming, challenge. So it’s difficult to see where ‘expeditious’ features. Anyway, developments on this front will no doubt be watched closely over the next six months.
Former Tongaat director Jenitha John’s era as CEO of the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors got off to an inauspicious start last week with veiled threats of legal action against parties that had suggested she might not be the best choice for the job.
Legal action might be just what’s needed. It would surely provide an opportunity for the full disclosure of the contents of PwC’s forensic report into “undesirable accounting practices”, including details of the auditing firm’s remit.
Then there were the Sens statements released last Thursday by Barloworld and Tongaat over the planned purchase by the former of a subsidiary of the latter. They indicate just how far apart the two parties are on the matter – Barloworld’s Sens talked in terms of a deal that could very well not happen; less than an hour later Tongaat released its Sens, which seemed to talk in terms of a deal that had merely hit an inconvenient bump.
On Friday almost 100% of Tongaat’s shareholders voted to approve the sale of the starch business. Now all they need is a buyer.
Capitec a little blasé …
Capitec seemed a little cavalier in its approach to signs of insider trading last week.
It does look as though the admin around valuable hedging transactions by directors Michiel le Roux and Chris Otto was a bit sloppy.
Given the price-sensitive activity that was going on – PSG’s announcement that it is unbundling a hefty chunk of its Capitec shares, and the Capitec profit warning – the company, its sponsors and the JSE should have made sure the oversight systems were more effective.
What the banks are banking on
Talking of profit warnings from banks, FirstRand’s expected 20%-plus drop in earnings per share for the year to end-June is driven less by a deterioration in its actual lending portfolio performance and more by its “forward-looking assumptions used in the modelling of expected credit losses”.
Does this mean things haven’t been too bad so far – but are expected to get much worse?
That things might not be too bad for the banks is suggested by the SA Reserve Bank’s comments on the disappointingly low take-up of the R200 billion in Covid-19 loans that banks are administering.
The low take-up prompts the question: why would the banks dispense the much-lower margin Covid-loans if they reckon they can still extract higher margins from ordinary lending facilities, even from distressed clients? The banks are, of course, best placed to know exactly how far they can push their clients.
Finally, what is Stellar Capital up to?
Since its November 2019 AGM it appears to have bought back as much as 13.5% of its shares.
This is more than double the level that triggers appraisal rights, yet there has been no sign of Stellar’s dissenting shareholders being offered these rights.
Share buybacks are essentially a swamp of conflicts of interest between company insiders and their shareholders; it’s time the JSE took that conflict more seriously.