TheBigPond - spotlight on what South African business and business people have been up to in Europe. Edited by South African journalist Christo Volschenk from Stuttgart, Germany. Note: This blog has migrated to a new home at www.thebigpond.eu.
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Anglo's Tarmac still for sale

According to Timesonline.co.uk Cynthia Carroll, chief executive of Anglo American, said in London yesterday the sale of Tarmac, its UK-based aggregates and asphalt company, was still on the cards - the process has just been delayed by the credit crisis.

When Tarmac was put up for sale 12 months ago, analysts estimated it could fetch more than $6 billion.

Anglo American, the world's fourth-biggest miner, is expecting resource-hungry China to continue to hold up global demand as rising output and record prices for iron ore and copper propelled its profits nearly 15 per cent higher.

Pre-tax profits rose from $4.9 billion in the first six months of 2007 to $6.4 billion in the same period this year.

The base metals division, including copper, zinc and nickel, was the biggest contributor to group operating profit, accounting for 41 per cent, followed by the Anglo Platinum unit, making up 25 per cent.

Carroll said the company's $45 billion pipeline of new and expansion projects, including $15 billion of approved projects, had risen by $3 billion since February.

Kumba Iron Ore, 64 per cent owned by Anglo, posted a 75 per cent increase in first-half earnings last week. Anglo also owns 45 per cent of De Beers, the world's biggest diamond supplier, whose first-half sales increased by 10 per cent to $3.3 billion.
1.8.08 10:49


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Robert Hersov takes another financial knock

For London-based Robert Hersov, member of the well-known Hersov family of Anglovaal fame in South Africa, the year 2008 is slowly turning into an annus horribilis as far as his business activities in Germany are concerned.

After pocketing a 30 million Euro loss in April this year from an investment he had made in the German airline Air Berlin a short four months before, a Berlin court gave a ruling today which effectively forces Hersov to pocket another 18 million Euro loss from a second, unrelated business deal.

The court case was about a deal involving 3 million shares in a German listed company called Curanum. (Hersov was ordered to fork out just over 29 million Euro for shares only worth 11 million Euro at close of trade today.)

That brings his (realised and unrealised) losses in Germany this year to 48 million Euro (about R570 million) - probably enough to give even a Hersov a sleepless night or two. Definitely enough to buy a handful of prime wine farms in the Boland.

And, to make matters worse, these deals were not really Hersov's, but deals made by a "good friend", the 31-year-old Lars Windhorst, a German with a long history of bad business deals. Hersov had appointed him to lead Vatas Holding, a subsidiary of Hersov's UK-based investment vehicle Sapinda, which he started in 1999, after completing a stint at Italian businessman-turned-politician Berlusconi's media empire. And Vatas was the principle in both deals.

But, like with all good stories, this one also has a positive ending: Had Hersov not sold his Air Berlin stake in April, his loss would now have been double the realised 30 million Euro.
1.8.08 18:47


Naspers' roundabout way into big-time search

If this post by a Russian called Yakov on his blog at http://blog.quitura.com is anything to go by, Naspers' new "partner" in the Mail.ru project could just turn out to be a lucky break for Naspers in Russia.

After acquiring a minority stake in Digital Sky Technologies (DST), majority owner of Russian portal Mail.ru (in which Naspers holds 32%) recently, Alisher Usmanov is now apparently trying to buy a 10% - 20% share in Russia's leading search engine Yandex.

Should that happen and assuming Koos and Alisher strike up a good working relationship, Naspers could just be edging closer to an involvement in Russia's most successful search engine, which is also Europe's third most used search engine.

Now, would that be something?

Usmanov is not just anyone. (That's why I think Koos would enjoy his company.) For a nice portrait of Usmanov, check Wikipedia out here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alisher_Usmanov

And here a shortened version of Yakov's post (dated 4 August):

"Alisher Usmanov, founder of Metalloinvest holding and owner of Kommersant publishing house, is in the process of becoming a major investor in Russia's leading search engine Yandex, the Russian business daily Vedomosti reported.

According to the newspaper, Usmanov is negotiating to buy 10%-20% in Yandex from the founding managers of the company, as well as new shares in the upcoming IPO on NASDAQ. Based on the company’s expected valuation of about $5 billion, the stake could be worth $1 billion.

The investment banks Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Renaissance Capital are managing the Yandex IPO.

In 2007 Yandex generated revenue of $167 million. Yandex accounted for 54% of all search traffic in Russia in Q1 2008, ahead of Google (19%) and Rambler (14%). In May 2008 Comscore ranked Yandex the third most popular search property in Europe with 528 million monthly searches."
5.8.08 10:13


About Naspers and Usmanov

I wonder, has anyone in South Africa noticed (yet) that Naspers is in bed with the controversial Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov?

Fair enough, Naspers was there first. Usmanov only came last week. But, whether the two ended up in bed by choice, or by co-incidence doesn't matter now.

All I'm saying, is: Suddenly Naspers has a link to the Arsenal Football Club, the "unhappy" diamond dealings between Usmanov and De Beers, and a lot more. Because, you always sleep with everyone your partner has slept with before.

For the complete list of what Usmanov has been up to, go to Wikipedia, or use the link I provided in the story below.

* Also read what I wrote on 27 July on Usmanov and Naspers under the title "Shares change hands at Russian site Mail.ru".
5.8.08 14:00


Tony Twine is in for a surprise

Germany's biggest national business daily newspaper Handelsblatt asked the question this morning 'whether economic policy will make a jump to the left in the post-Mbeki era, and if, how big that jump will be'.

Two private sector economists and the DA were quoted. All three parties said there will be a jump to the left. But, and this is the important point, the two private sector economists guessed it would be a small jump to the left, while the DA warned a radical jump was on its way.

I'm afraid, this time around the private sector economists "het die pot misgesit", as they say in the classics on the other side of the Du Toitskloof.

Like the DA, I spent the vital first four years after 1994 in parliament, where I witnessed how it came that SA didn't get "populistic policies", but IMF-endorsed policies. I saw how arrogant and aggressive and cock-sure Cosatu was up to that vital day in 1996 when the private sector-friendly policy was published, how they were absolutely convinced that "their way" was going to happen, and I saw how angry, shocked and surprised Cosatu was when things didn't turn out the way they had expected them to, and how they withdrew their representatives from parliament from the very next day the 1996-document was published, and how they vowed to revenge this "betrayal of the workers".

In short, I know that SA was only spared the populist economic policies (propagated before 1994) for a short period. That period is about to end. The private sector economists are in for a big surprise.

I observed in parliament that SA got the policies it got, only thanks to a small number of senior politicians (lead by Nelson Mandela) and that this policy-selection was not supported by many outside this small group of (very influential) individuals. In short, free markets have never been "in the blood" of the majority of ANC supporters.

So, the direction taken after 1994 (and especially after 1996) was connected to a few leaders, the last of whom will be in retirement by next year. That's also when the last defences against "socialism" will fall.

Now, the article quoted the private sector economists as saying SA's economy cannot easily be "sosialized". I differ again. All that has to be done, is for prices to be fixed in a few sectors.

As the government is about to do in the health sector (where they want to prescribe to the private hospitals how much they may charge....with the result that Medi-Clinic effectively "emigrated" to Switzerland last December) and wants to do in the building sector, food sector, energy sector and a few others (take a look at the economic decisions taken at Polokwane in December last year).

(And what are Cosatu's efforts to prevent Tito Mboweni from raising the interest rates other than attempts to fix the prices banks charge for money?)

To devastate supply, dictate to suppliers how much they may charge for their products, without fixing their input costs. That's essentially what Mugabe did in Zim in the 90s. We all know how that experiment ended.

Nevertheless, that seems to be the way the "new" (really "old") ANC wants to go.

Here a section of the abovementioned article as it appeared in the Handelsblatt this morning. I'll translate, if anyone has the need. Ask me, I'm at e-mail: editor (at) ntsnn (dot) com

"Die Cosatu selbst plädiert seit Jahren für eine stärkere Intervention des Staates und höhere Sozialausgaben; letztere wollen die Gewerkschaften aus dem gegenwärtigen Haushaltsüberschuss finanzieren. Daneben wehrt sich die Gewerkschaft vehement gegen eine strikte Inflationsvorgabe. Offiziell hat die Zentralbank am Kap den Auftrag, die Teuerung in einer Spanne zwischen drei und sechs Prozent zu halten. Momentan liegt die Inflation mit 11,6 Prozent jedoch weit darüber. Dies hat die Zentralbank zu einer restriktiven Geldpolitik veranlasst, die bei den Gewerkschaften auf wenig Gegenliebe stößt.

Trotz des immer stärkeren Einflusses der Gewerkschaften auf die Wirtschaftspolitik des ANC rechnen namhafte Ökonomen nicht mit einem dramatischen Linksruck der Partei unter Zuma. "Ich sehe nicht, dass sich Südafrika auf eine Planwirtschaft nach Vorbild des früheren Ostblocks zubewegt", sagt Colen Garrow, Chefökonom beim Investmenhaus Brait. Allerdings erwartet er unter Zuma eine Wirtschaftspolitik mit stärker populistischen Elementen. Radikale Schritte wie die Gewerkschaften sie fordern, würden von den Finanzmärkten jedoch schnell bestraft. Zudem sei Südafrika bei seinem Wachstum sehr stark auf ausländische Investitionen angewiesen.

Auch Tony Twine vom Wirtschaftsberatungsinstitut Econometrix warnt vor einer Überreaktion auf die von den Gewerkschaften angeschlagenen radikalen Töne. Zwar habe am Kap vor 14 Jahren mit dem ANC eine im Herzen sozialistische Bewegung die Macht übernommen, doch habe er sich immer mehr in Richtung Sozialdemokratie entwickelt. Anders als der Agrarstaat Simbabwe verfüge Südafrika auch über eine starke industrielle Basis und sei viel stärker in die Weltwirtschaft integriert. Dies begrenze das Interventionspotenzial des Staates beträchtlich.

Weit weniger optimistisch zeigt sich die liberale Demokratischen Allianz (DA). Die offizielle Oppositionspartei befürchtet unter Zuma eine viel stärkere Interventionspolitik des Staates und die Etablierung einer strikten Planwirtschaft. Zum Beweis führt die DA die nun geplanten Landenteignungsgesetze an, die die Verstaatlichung von Farmland fast völlig in die Hände des Staates legen und ein Affront für weiße Farmer sind."
7.8.08 10:06


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