Upward trajectories and lines in the sand

M&R’s well-timed share awards, PPC’s timing tightrope walk, some relief during a torrid time for Ascendis, and time to face the music for more than 5 400 Eskom employees.
About time: 12.5% of Eskom’s employees have been referred for disciplinary proceedings and investigation. Image: Waldo Swiegers, Bloomberg

Well how lucky was that? Turns out that Murray & Roberts executives were awarded shares in terms of the group’s various incentive schemes at almost the very bottom of the market.

Within days of the multi-million rand awards in late September the share price had shot up from a decades’ low of R5 to R8.65.

And in addition to getting share-based awards, CEO Henry Laas also made a well-timed purchase on October 2.

Last week’s announcement that M&R’s Australian subsidiary had been selected as a joint venture partner in an R18 billion Australia-based project probably helped the bounce in the share price, with analysts describing it as a potential boost to future earnings.

At R8.65 the share still has a long way to go before it gets close to the R17 that German-based group Aton was offering a year ago.

In October 2019 Aton, which owns 44% of M&R, abandoned its five-year long bid to buy 100% of the company. The decision marked a resounding ‘victory’ for M&R’s independent board, which vigorously opposed the deal saying it undervalued the group by as much as R5 a share.

It also marked the beginning of a dramatic slump in the share price to an all-time low of R3.51 in May this year. It was making a gradual and hesitant recovery from that level until the announcement about winning the Australian contract, after which it vigorously spiked upwards.


The PPC board must have got a bit of a jolt last week when, just hours after releasing its annual financial statements for the 12 months ended March 2020, the JSE reminded investors that the cement company was facing suspension.

Listing requirements oblige companies to publish an annual report within four months of the year-end. To accommodate any Covid-related disruptions the Financial Sector Conduct Authority granted all listed companies, on request, a two-month extension to the four-month deadline. This means March-end companies had up to the end of September to release the annual report.

Traditionally it’s usually several weeks after the release of the financial statements before shareholders get sight of the annual report, which meant the long-suffering PPC shareholders could have been waiting until late November.

Full-marks to the JSE for drawing the line. It if doesn’t get a copy of the report by end-October the cement group’s listing will be suspended.

Meanwhile PPC’s listing has been annotated with a ‘Re’ to indicate that it has failed to submit its annual report timeously and remind shareholders that it is under threat of suspension.

This isn’t the first time in recent weeks that the JSE has had to step in to tidy up loose ends at PPC, which is hardly encouraging for investors who might soon be asked to support a rights issue.

Ascendis Health

Ascendis Health had been going through a torrid time long before Covid came crashing into our lives; so torrid that every announcement it releases is inevitably scrutinised for signs of more stress.

The good news is that four months after announcing that its CFO of five years would be stepping down in December, it has found a replacement.

Cheryl-Jane Kujenga, currently Adcorp CFO, is switching to the same position at Ascendis.

Kujenga will have a lot on her hands as the company, which recently reached an agreement to delay debt payments, is busy trying to sell assets.

But what should shareholders make of the announcement – 24 hours later – that independent non-executive director Mary Bomela would be resigning at the end of October?

If the circumstances were a little more benign shareholders might have swallowed the usual bland comment: “The board would like to take this opportunity to express its gratitude to Ms Bomela for her contribution towards Ascendis Health during her tenure of service and wishes her well in her future endeavours.” Sadly for Ascendis its circumstances aren’t bland.


How staggering is it that 5 452 Eskom officials have been referred for disciplinary proceedings and investigation?

That’s 12.5% of the state-owned utility’s employees; presumably, most of them were in management. The number of people and the sums involved make you wonder how Eskom ever managed to actually produce any electricity and how we weren’t suffering constant outages.


Of course, a more encouraging perspective is that the latest outrageous stats from the Special Investigating Unit also suggest there are over 38 000 employees at Eskom willing to do an honest day’s work.

It’s appalling that the government prevented them from doing so and also seemed to believe the enrichment of 5 452 individuals justified the near destruction of the economy.



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The upward trajectory is a result of unprecedented liquidity and stimulus pumped into the markets and the money had to find a home somewhere.

Wait till the stimulus suddenly stops.

In 20 years on from now many economists will real use that the stimulus should rather have been pumped into the pockets of people directly and not through conservative banks.

Where can we get a hold of this list of Eskom employees?

End of comments.



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