The stories that gripped Moneyweb readers in 2019

The articles our audience read, commented on and shared the most – and what it says about the current state of affairs.
Articles about personal finance and events that affect our wallets remain at the top of the list alongside others about mismanagement of our tax money and unfair treatment by authorities. Image: Shutterstock

One of the benefits of an online news service for publishers is that they can monitor how many people read and share articles and news stories, and see what readers are interested in immediately. It is obviously impossible to do the same with a printed newspaper or magazine.

The clever computer experts at Moneyweb check every day to see how many people opened up a specific article and how long each reader spent reading it.

They also know which buttons to push to produce a list of the most popular stories published on Moneyweb since the beginning of 2019.

The best-read article so far this year is a story about the ruling political party in Nigeria threatening to nationalise SA firms operating in Nigeria in response to attacks on Nigerian nationals in Gauteng in September.

The article by Bloomberg quoted the chair of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, as saying “whereas South Africans continue to benefit from the Nigerian business environment and repatriating billions of dollars, the South African authorities appear jealous of the menial jobs which some Nigerians and other black people are involved in [in SA]”.

“It is worth it for the Nigerian government to take steps to take over the remaining shares of MTN that are owned by South Africans,” he said. He also called for a boycott of products sold by other SA firms in Nigeria.

It is understandable that the story was well read and shared, as it reminded people of past claims of several billion dollars by the Nigerian government against MTN.

The second most popular story published by Moneyweb in the past year is titled Allan Gray passes away, giving a history of the founder of the well-known asset management firm who is widely seen as the pioneer of the fund management industry in SA.

Articles about personal finance and events that affect our wallets are always popular, as are stories about mismanagement of our tax money and unfair treatment by authorities. All these factors were present in our third most popular story: Joburg’s prepaid electricity tariff shock.

The shock was that the Johannesburg municipality decided to charge its prepaid customers a fixed availability fee of R200 per month, resulting in a 66% increase in the price of electricity for customers buying prepaid electricity.

The fee would have been added to residents’ municipal accounts. The decision was however reversed after a public outcry.

The story noted that the City of Tshwane had also introduced a R200 fixed monthly charge. In this case, civil rights movement AfriForum challenged the municipal decision in the high court.

Forty readers commented on the story, with one quoting figures that electricity in SA is now more expensive than in half the states in the USA.

Congratulations, your mortgage arrears have been extinguished

It is worrisome that an article on mortgage arrears also made the list of Moneyweb’s 20 most popular stories. Is the economy so bad that mortgage arrears are common?

The analysis by legal consultant Leonard Benjamin argued that SA banks are in the same legal situation as the Bank of Scotland, which lost a court case in 2014 based on an argument that a reduction in the interest rate is akin to bringing bonds up to date.

“The banks no longer have a legal basis for continuing with debt enforcement proceedings,” said Benjamin. “Despite this, many customers are still having to deal with the possibility of losing their homes.”

Big bugbears, and the big dream

Another top-read story implied that people earning high salaries are also struggling financially. The article highlighting that Discovery clients are reducing their medical cover was the fifth best-read during the last year. It also received among the highest number of comments from readers.

More than 60 readers commented on the news that the membership of the three most expensive medical plans offered by Discovery declined by some 22% compared to five years earlier. Two other stories about Discovery also made our top 20, one about the medical scheme’s rates for 2020 and another about changes to its Vitality programme. Both elicited many comments, most of which were critical of the increase in the cost of medical insurance and medical costs in general. The discussions covered the government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) proposals, with all readers seemingly heavily opposed to the new scheme.

Read: Discovery Health’s 2020 medical aid increases

When Moneyweb deputy editor Larry Claasen related his experience with a car rental company trying to charge him for defects after he returned a car and got the all-clear from the receiving agent – twice – a lot of people related similar experiences. The story was the sixth best-read article on Moneyweb. Many readers swore never to use rental cars again, opting for Uber instead or begging lifts from family and friends.

My plan to make R1 million on the JSE – penned by me – was well received, maybe only because R1 million still has a certain ring to it. A million is definitely not what it was a few years ago when Robert Redford offered Demi Moore $1 million for a date in Indecent Proposal in 1993, but a million is still a million.

Surprisingly, or perhaps tellingly, only one of the many stories lamenting the many problems at state-owned enterprises (SOEs) made the list of the 20 best-read stories.

It seems we published stories about the sorry state of SOEs every week, all well received and igniting passionate debate, but the fact that SOEs demonstrate a galling lack of governance was the one that really irked readers (taxpayers).

Barbara Curson wrote that “our SOEs have demonstrated that they are quite adept at ignoring the National Treasury regulations, and contravening the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and the Companies Act. The SOEs who met with the president had run up irregular expenditure of a minimum of R178.5 billion by March 31, 2018.”

She listed the audit outcome of the major SOEs, with a reader adding the comment that a billion spent over 20 years equals R136 892.53 per day, every day. For the figure of R178.5 billion it is R24 435 316.60 per day, every day.

This is what awaits South Africa if Moody’s cuts its rating to junk, published on November 7, again reminded readers of our problems, with a comment by one of our readers summing it up perfectly:

“SA is like an impending car crash in extreme slow motion (like those viewed in NCAP-tests). You know that the test-vehicle will hit the wall … it’s part of the process.

“This is what makes international funds/investors/analysts predictions easy: They have already taken their positions months or years ago … now is just wait for ‘confirmation’. (And they have many prior junk-countries’ similar models to help with the prediction).

“SA’s bond position on global markets is like sending in the damages claim to the insurance before the car is about to hit a stationary object.”

SA’s corporate meltdown – discussing the corporate governance problems at listed companies – completed our top 20 list. Anchor Capital CEO Peter Armitage pointed out that SA’s listed corporate space has seen an unprecedented number of big market cap meltdowns over the past two years. He identified 20 high-profile listed companies whose share prices have plummeted and explained why.

“The temptation is to jump to the conclusion that SA business is fraught with malfeasance, but this analysis seeks to illustrate that, while there has been no doubt been unethical behaviour, the majority of failures have been through a combination of bad luck, tough market conditions, one-off unanticipated events and poor judgement,” wrote Armitage.

He warned that investors should be wary of companies with high gearing, be sceptical of big offshore investments ad be aware of the risk posed by regulators who can change the rules overnight.

He asks: “Are there more to come? The unexpected can always happen, but our view at present is that most of the pain has been felt and companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev are actively degearing in order not to be exposed if the global economy turns south.”

Moneyweb’s Top 20 most popular stories of 2019

Nigerian ruling party demands takeover of South African firms
Allan Gray passes away
Joburg’s prepaid electricity tariff shock
Congratulations, your mortgage arrears have been extinguished
Members are ditching top-end Discovery Health plans
Car renter, beware!
The taxman is coming for your rent
My plan to make R1 million on the JSE
The SA lender you’ve never heard of with almost no bad debt
SOEs demonstrate galling lack of governance
Well-known financial advisor Thomas Stringfellow arrested
Army pulls out of violent Cape Town suburbs after show of force
Big changes for Discovery Vitality in 2020
Atterbury’s R6bn mega property project breaks ground in Pretoria
This is what awaits South Africa if Moody’s cuts its rating to junk
How you can save tax on school fees
Discovery Health’s 2020 medical aid increases
The big business of traffic fines
Old Mutual is under fire again
SA’s corporate meltdown

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Adriaan, am chuffed that you randomly picked my own comment re the “impending car crash in slow motion” analogy 😉

One of YOUR more recent articles also drawn near-record comments (well over 130) being the one “Karatbars swims in murky waters”. (We’ll need a follow-up in 2020…be certain that the comments will be heated)

One thing is certain, news in SA (in any given year) is everything but boring!

With all that coding, intellectual and analyses power, couldn’t you have at least linked the original stories to the list. Really? Why not? I would have thought that was 101 and would have made my student go back and rewrite!

End of comments.





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