News Archive

South Africa’s Amplats cuts 4,800 jobs

Fri Aug 30, 2013 6:45am EDT

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Anglo American Platinum (AMSJ.J), the world’s top platinum producer, said on Friday it would cut about 4,800 jobs, laying off 3,300 workers and paying off the rest, and will redeploy 1,600 more.

Job cuts are a sensitive issue in South Africa, where the unemployment rate is more than 25 percent and mine labor violence rooted in a union turf war has killed dozens of people over the past 18 months, mostly on the platinum belt.

The platinum arm of global mining group Anglo American (AAL.L) had plans in January to cut 14,000 jobs but reined in its plans in the face of a fierce backlash from the government and unions. Workers remain unhappy with the final result.

“We have said no single person should be forced to go home, it should all be voluntary packages or natural attrition. We are very disappointed,” said National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) spokesman Lesiba Seshoka.

President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) are keen to keep job losses to a minimum before elections next year and want to contain mining unrest, which also triggered damaging sovereign credit downgrades last year.

“This is about the best outcome that we could have so that the company can still do what is necessary to make itself profitable,” said chief executive Chris Griffith.

“Returning the company to profitability will protect more than 40,000 jobs. If this company runs into the ground, there will be 40,000 people who lose their jobs, not 3,000,” he told journalists on a conference call.

Amplats said “approximately 500 other opportunities” would be found, but did not give further details, bringing the total jobs affected under its restructuring plan to as many as 7,000.

The typical South African miner has around eight dependants, many of whom are subsistence farmers and live in rural areas far from the shafts, and so job losses have wide consequences.

The country’s mines employ about 500,000 workers, a third fewer than before the end of white rule two decades ago, while the population has grown by over 40 percent since 1990.


Pay negotiations in the platinum sector started this month, and on Friday the NUM served gold producers with a notice they would strike from Tuesday after wage talks broke down.

Huge wage hikes or strikes would hit Amplats’ bottom line hard just as it strives to recover from last year, when low prices for the metal used to cap emissions in automobiles and a wave of violent wildcat stoppages pushed it into the red.

The Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which represents the bulk of Amplats’ workers after wresting tens of thousands of members from the NUM in the labor conflict last year, wants rises of more than 100 percent.

Griffith said the industry in South Africa, which sits on about 80 percent of known global platinum reserves, had its back to the wall.

“We are not playing games. This is an industry in real trouble. About half of this industry is making a loss.”

Amplats’ return to profitability hinges on the reconfiguration of its strike-hit Rustenburg mines where it plans to cut production by 250,000 ounces initially and by a further 100,000 ounces in the medium term.

Benefits are expected to start feeding through from next year when the 2.6 billion rand ($252 million) cost of the operational reshuffling is expected to be outweighed by long-term cost savings of 3.8 billion rand a year by 2015.

The new boss of Amplats’ parent Anglo, Mark Cutifani, said on Thursday the group remains committed to its South African platinum mining business but only if it pays its way, saying “nothing is sacrosanct”.

He also rounded on the “cowards, thugs and murderers” he said were behind South Africa’s mining unrest – a veiled reference to AMCU, which has been accused by critics of using intimidation to grow its membership, allegations it denies.

($1 = 10.3205 South African rand)

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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U.S., Switzerland strike bank deal over tax evasion

Fri Aug 30, 2013 6:28am EDT

WASHINGTON/BERN (Reuters) – The United States and Switzerland have struck a deal to allow some Swiss banks to pay fines to avoid or defer prosecution over tax evasion by their U.S. customers, moving closer towards ending a long-running dispute.

The deal will apply to about 100 second-tier Swiss banks, which could have to disclose some previously hidden information and face penalties of up to 50 percent of assets they managed on behalf of wealthy Americans.

But it does not cover banks already under U.S. criminal investigation, which include some of Switzerland’s biggest banks such as Credit Suisse and Julius Baer.

The deal is a step forward in a long-running U.S. drive to pierce the shroud of Swiss bank secrecy, though analysts said it was too early to say how much the Swiss banks would have to pay or how much extra revenue would flow to the United States.

“On the whole it’s a pretty strong agreement,” said Heather Lowe, director of government affairs at anti-graft watchdog Global Financial Integrity, though she said there were “gaps”, such as whether banks could settle without turning over U.S. client names. “That is definitely one open question here.”

Swiss privacy laws have helped to make the Alpine country the world’s biggest offshore financial center. But a crackdown on tax evasion by U.S. authorities in particular had led it to the negotiating table in a bid to lift the uncertainty over potential fines and even indictments for its banks.

UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, reached a landmark $780 million settlement with U.S. authorities in 2009 after admitting it sheltered U.S. tax cheats, providing information that has contributed to a criminal investigation currently focused on 14 other banks.

Switzerland’s oldest bank, Wegelin Co, was indicted earlier this year and announced its closure, underscoring the risks for Swiss financial institutions.

“It’s a choice between two evils (for Swiss banks),” said Walter Boss, a tax lawyer with Poledna Boss Kurer AG in Zurich.

“If they don’t cooperate with the U.S., the U.S. might indict them.”


U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder hailed Thursday’s deal: “The program’s requirement that Swiss banks provide detailed account information will improve our ability to bring tax dollars back to the U.S. Treasury from across the globe.”

The Swiss government, meanwhile, said the settlement provided a framework for cooperation while respecting Switzerland’s legal system and sovereignty.

Under the program’s penalty provisions, a Swiss bank seeking a non-prosecution agreement must agree to a penalty equal to 20 percent of the total dollar amount of all hidden U.S. customer accounts held by the bank on August 1, 2008.

That was roughly when the United States started cracking down on tax avoidance by Americans with secret Swiss accounts.

The penalty amount increases to 30 percent and then to 50 percent, depending on how active a bank was in continuing to open secret accounts for Americans after the crackdown began.

“The fines in particular are at the upper end of legally acceptable and economically bearable levels,” the Swiss Bankers Association (SBA) said in a statement.

“It is, however, the sole remaining solution for enabling the banks to resolve the legal problems with the U.S. conclusively, and for creating legal certainty.”

The SBA also flagged what it called “certain ambiguities in the program” which would need to be discussed between the U.S. Justice Department and the banks to enable the banks to implement the program.

The program, which is not available to individuals, also requires cooperating banks to tell prosecutors about Americans’ assets that left Switzerland and were moved to other tax havens.

The Swiss government did not give any information about the banks still under U.S. investigation, which also include the Swiss arm of Britain’s HSBC, privately held Pictet, and state-backed regional banks Zuercher Kantonalbank and Basler Kantonalbank.

Several of these banks have said they are preparing information on client withdrawals as demanded by U.S. investigators, after the Swiss government said it would allow them to circumvent secrecy and privacy laws to do so.

At 0950 GMT, Credit Suisse shares were down 1.2 percent at 27.01 Swiss francs, with Julius Baer’s down 0.9 percent at 41.32 francs. The European bank index was off 0.3 percent.

(Additional report by Martin da Sa’Pinto in Zurich. Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Gary Hill, Matthew Lewis, Ken Wills and Mark Potter)

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Mall developers feel the pull of Africa’s consumer boom

Fri Aug 30, 2013 5:33am EDT

ACCRA/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – When Wal-Mart Stores (WMT.N), the world’s top retailer, bought control of major South African discount chain Massmart Holdings (MSMJ.J) in 2011, American shopping mall developer Irwin Barkan had an epiphany.

An industry veteran of 30 years, Barkan’s U.S. home market was “graying”, while the youthful, underdeveloped African continent offered a sweet spot, with a rapidly expanding middle class and no competition from online retailers.

“When Wal-Mart announced it was buying 51 percent of Massmart, I knew that if I was going to stay in business, Africa was where I had to go,” he said.

He moved last year to Ghana, one of the continent’s brightest economic hopes, and his company, BG International (BGI), has broken ground on what will be an 18,400-square-metre (200,000 sq feet) enclosed mall in West Accra. Another mall planned for Ghana’s second city of Kumasi is at a similar stage.

Barkan is not alone. Across Africa, commercial real estate developers are responding to the lure of one of the world’s fastest-growing consumer markets and rushing to build malls for eager retailers.

Consumer spending accounted for more than 60 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s buoyant economic growth, the World Bank said in its Africa Pulse report in April, adding economic growth would accelerate to more than 5 percent over the next three years, far outpacing the global average.

But for developers, it’s still a risky business. Investors estimate it costs between $35 million and $60 million to build a mall in Africa, which limits the number of players.

Other obstacles include the difficulty of acquiring secure land titles – few African countries have unified land registries – and a lack of reliable data on consumption patterns, which means developers are sometimes reduced to guesswork when it comes to choosing where to site a new mall.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, typical development returns are between 12 and 16 percent, while rental yields for the best existing malls are about 7 percent, a small premium over the 5 percent for the best European sites, said Peter Welborn, managing director of Africa at real estate consultant Knight Frank.

The yield, which is the rental income expressed as a percentage of the real estate’s value, is kept low by strong local investment demand and makes many foreign investors think the return is not worth the risk, Welborn added.


Sub-Saharan Africa’s middle class is still small by global standards, but investors are betting on steep growth.

Consulting firm McKinsey estimates that by 2020 Africa’s spending power will be $1.4 trillion, up from $860 billion in 2008, and there will be 65 cities with a population of over 1 million by 2016, roughly doubling since 2005.

While the vast majority of shoppers from Accra to Addis Ababa still frequent traditional markets, habits are changing.

At the Shoprite mall on Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city, high-end brand clothes hang elegantly in air-conditioned boutiques.

“I like this place because it is comfortable. You don’t need to sweat like in the market. It’s nice and cool, a much better experience than what you get in the outdoor markets,” said Onyeka Achife, 28, a student and businesswoman at the mall.

Africa’s No. 1 oil producer Nigeria, a country of 170 million, has the continent’s largest middle class outside of South Africa, but it had only a single mall until a second opened in 2011. Developers say a dozen more could open in 2013.

The mall market in Ghana is currently dominated by a single centre, the 58-shop Accra Mall, which draws up to 1 million visitors a quarter and is so busy on weekends that shoppers can spend two hours navigating the car park.


That dearth of malls in Africa has hampered the sub-Saharan expansion of Massmart, Shoprite Holdings (SHPJ.J) and other big South African retailers.

Massmart still has only 29 stores outside its home market, though it is in talks to take a majority stake in Kenyan supermarket chain Naivas, a deal that would give it a foothold in east Africa’s top economy.

“Access to suitable store sites is a key area of focus for retailers around the globe. This is sometimes more challenging on the African continent,” said Brian Leroni, Massmart’s corporate affairs executive.

Shoprite, Africa’s biggest grocer, has said finding suitable sites is the major impediment to its sub-Saharan growth. While Shoprite has 1,240 stores spread across 18 African countries, more than 1,000 of those are in South Africa.

“We are not in the property business; we prefer to be tenants in shopping malls, but there are few of those around, and so we’d build our own stores in strategic locations, said Neil Schreuder, marketing director at Shoprite.

To overcome the hurdle, Shoprite has put more than $200 million into a property fund to build shopping malls and its own standalone stores in Nigeria.

Not only grocers depend on malls to provide growth opportunities. Clothing retailer Foschini Group (TFGJ.J) plans to double its stores outside its native South Africa in the next three years to about 200, but needs malls to do that.

“We follow shopping malls. Without shopping malls, we would probably have to sit back and watch,” said Ronnie Steyn, the company’s financial director.

Jonathan Ciano, the head of Kenya’s Uchumi Supermarkets (UCHM.NR), told Reuters the sometimes slow pace of shopping mall developments in east Africa’s biggest economy makes it harder to capitalize on growing prosperity among consumers.

“If someone exceeds the timelines, my growth is heavily affected, and alternative developments come up, so the area becomes less lucrative, yet you are already committed,” he said.


Despite the obstacles, South Africa is providing the investment muscle driving the main expansion of malls in the rest of the continent.

Stanlib, the asset management arm of Africa’s biggest lender Standard Bank (SBKJ.J), recently launched an Africa-focused development fund with plans to build six to eight malls in Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana and Kenya.

South Africa’s largest asset manager, the state-owned 1.2 trillion rand ($115 billion) Public Investment Corporation, also has plans to invest in property on the continent.

South Africa-based Atterbury Group, which recently bought Accra Mall, also has sights set on expansion in Africa. It plans to open in the Ghanaian capital a new mall that will be the city’s biggest, to add to properties from Namibia to Mauritius.

Private equity group Actis, which last year sold its 85 percent stake in Accra Mall to Atterbury and South African financial services group Sanlam (SLMJ.J), has deployed a $280 million sub-Saharan Africa property fund on office parks, malls and apartments.

“We have a large target market, rapidly expanding and urbanizing and hugely under-supplied with quality real estate,” said Chu’di Ejekam, real estate director at its Lagos office.

Nigeria could take a further 45 to 50 large top-class malls within the next seven years to add to its current total of about three, he said.

Chinese developers and other Asian investors are also looking to invest in African malls, said Knight Frank’s Welborn.

“The Chinese have built the roads, hospitals and schools, so this is the next stage for them.”

(This story has been refiled to fix date in dateline to August 30)

(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Lagos, Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, Tosin Sulaiman and Benon Oluka in Johannesburg, and Tom Bill in London; Editing by Pascal Fletcher, David Dolan and Will Waterman)

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Germany: still ready to talk with Airbus on fought-over loan

Fri Aug 30, 2013 5:28am EDT

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s government is still ready to negotiate with Airbus over payment of a long-disputed development loan worth more than 600 million euros, the economy ministry said on Friday, denying a newspaper report that talks with the planemaker had failed.

“The economy ministry remains willing to talk. We expect that a constructive solution is possible,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Airbus has committed to strengthening the research and development capacities in Germany. The economy ministry is awaiting concrete proposals and their implementation.”

Earlier, German daily Die Welt quoted from a paper, which Airbus had sent to those German federal states that are home to the planemaker’s bases, that the drawn-out talks had “realistically speaking finally failed”.

Germany and Airbus have been at loggerheads over the remaining 623 million euro part of a 1.1 billion euro loan. They have fought over the allocation of jobs for Airbus A350 jets and sources have said Airbus is unwilling to give guarantees over the share of work on the latest jet as long as Germany holds back the loan.

Berlin, for its part, wants guarantees about work on future Airbus projects and says Airbus has not stuck to its commitment.

Despite having a working share of 34 percent in Airbus’ long-distance plane A350, Germany has only paid 15 percent of the European development loan, “practically forcing Airbus to correct its German working share downwards”, the newspaper said.

Airbus (EAD.PA) declined comment.

A source close to the company said Chief Executive Tom Enders – who is also upset over Germany’s obstruction of a planned merger last year with BAE Systems (BAES.L) – was considering reducing the share of A350s built in Germany.

(Reporting by Gernot Heller, additional reporting by Jens Hack, writing by Annika Breidthardt, editing by Gareth Jones)

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Dollar firm as Syria action on hold, oil eases

Fri Aug 30, 2013 8:40am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) – Upbeat economic data from the United States kept the dollar near a four-week high against major currencies on Friday though oil prices fell as expectations of an imminent U.S.-led strike against Syria ebbed.

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a firmer start when Wall Street opens though as more economic numbers due out on private spending and manufacturing activity were likely to add to the growing picture of an economy steadily improving.

However, a holiday weekend in America and month-end positioning by traders was keeping activity light and markets remain worried about the Middle East and the impact of an early withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve.

“I think the dollar recovery trend remains in place, though we may see a pause over the next few days,” said Ian Stannard, head of European foreign exchange strategy at Morgan Stanley.

“The underlying fundamental picture is still there and that comes down to a rise in global yields and a rise in the U.S. dollar that is still going to weigh on the more vulnerable currencies.”

Most major equity markets and many emerging currencies looked set to end the week and the month sharply lower as investors pull out of riskier assets in expectation of the Fed action and some form of Western intervention against Syria.

The growing caution was reflected in a Reuters asset allocation poll of 54 fund managers across the United States, Europe and Japan. It showed investors had increased cash holdings to their highest level in a year, while also lifting exposure to equities and cutting bond positions.


Fears of broader conflict in the Middle East have eased slightly after Britain said it would not join any military action, although France said it still backs action to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government for an apparent poison gas attack on civilians.

Any military strike now looks likely to be delayed at least until U.N. investigators report back after leaving Syria on Saturday, with Russia still fiercely opposing any move and China cautioning against any U.N. Security Council action until the investigation is complete.

The easing of tensions over Syria sent Brent crude oil to near $115 a barrel, off highs of $117 set earlier this week when military action seemed imminent. U.S. crude was down 55 cents to $108.25.

“The situation is still volatile,” said Alex Yap, an analyst at energy consultancy FGE in Singapore. “If the U.S. decides to attack, prices could be pushed higher.”


MSCI’s world equity index .MIWD00000PUS, which tracks shares in 45 countries, was virtually flat on Friday but was heading for its worst week of the month and its worst month since June.

European shares were feeling the pressure from a drop in oil stocks with the broader STOXX Europe 600 index .STOXX down 0.5 percent, taking its weekly losses to around 2.1 percent. .EU

Earlier, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS finished up about 0.7 percent, managing a 0.1 percent weekly gain but a 1.3 percent monthly loss. Japan’s Nikkei .N225 lost 0.5 percent despite new data that painted a brighter economic picture.

Currency markets focused on the economic outlook and interest rate differentials after U.S. data on Thursday showed a better-than-expected annual growth of 2.5 percent in the second quarter.

Combined with strength in the U.S. labor market, the data has bolstered the case for the Fed to begin winding down stimulus as early as September.

This has pushed up the interest rate-sensitive two-year U.S. Treasury yield to its highest since early July at 0.3947 percent and the 10-year yield back up to 2.76 percent and lent support to the dollar.

The dollar index .DXY, which measures its value against six major currencies, was at 81.994, not far from a four-week high of 82.067 struck on Thursday.

Among emerging currencies, the Indian rupee was trading at 67.36 per dollar, down from Thursday’s close of 66.55. It has tumbled 10.4 percent against the dollar so far this month, and looks to be heading for its largest monthly fall ever, according to Thomson Reuters data.

In commodity markets, gold fell one percent to below $1,400 an ounce, moving away from a 3-1/2 month high hit on Wednesday when the fears over Syria prompted a flight to safety.

(Additional reporting by Chris Johnson; editing by Stephen Nisbet)

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India not headed back to 1991 crisis: Manmohan Singh

Fri Aug 30, 2013 4:33am EDT

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is not facing a repeat of the 1991 balance of payments crisis and fears that economic growth will slip to as low as 3 percent are unfounded, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said.

“There is no reason for anybody to believe that we are going down the hill and that 1991 is on the horizon,” Singh told parliament.

Noting that the rupee’s sharp decline over the last three months was partly due to an expected tapering of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s liquidity measures, he said rich countries should pay more attention to the impact of their policy steps on developing countries’ economies.

“In a more equitable world order, it is only appropriate that the developed countries – in pursuing their fiscal and monetary policies – should take into account the repercussions on the economy of emerging countries.”

(Reporting by John Chalmers)

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Swiss economic recovery to pick up speed in near future

Fri Aug 30, 2013 4:30am EDT

ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland’s economy will gain momentum in the coming months, buoyed in part by an improvement in business sentiment in surrounding euro zone countries, the leading Swiss indicator suggested on Friday.

The KOF barometer, a gauge of the economy’s performance in about six months’ time, rose to 1.36 points in August, its highest level since November 2012, from a revised 1.25 points in July, beating expectations for 1.33 in a Reuters poll.

“The year-on-year growth rate of Swiss Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the near future can therefore be expected to be positive,” the KOF institute said in a statement, adding the core GDP module of the indicator was pointing sharply upwards.

Switzerland’s economy has fared better than those of its austerity-hit European neighbors although sluggish exports to the Europe Union, its biggest trading partner, remained a concern in July.

However, recent data from the euro currency bloc, including business sentiment and private sector growth in Germany, has been more upbeat.

In June, the Swiss government slightly increased its 2013 growth forecast to 1.4 percent, while the Swiss National bank (SNB) stuck to its forecast of 1-1.5 percent growth.

“The KOF says Swiss industry is doing better, that is no surprise. As Europe improves you see the key impact it has on Switzerland,” J. Safra Sarasin economist Alessandro Bee said.

Swiss exports have been supported by a cap the SNB imposed on the soaring franc currency in 2011. But the central bank has warned that the franc remained overvalued and continued to pose risks to the economy.

SNB board member Fritz Zurbruegg said this month the cap on the safe-haven currency would be kept in place for as long as needed.

The SNB’s next policy meeting is on September 19.

(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Martin de Sa’Pinto)

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L’Oreal could sell Sanofi stake to fund acquisitions: CEO

Fri Aug 30, 2013 4:09am EDT

PARIS (Reuters) – L’Oreal (OREP.PA) Chief Executive Jean-Paul Agon reiterated on Friday that the cosmetics group could sell its stake in drugmaker Sanofi (SASY.PA) to help fund acquisitions.

“The cash is there to use,” he said. “We will see if the opportunities are there to use it. We have always said that our stake in Sanofi is financial and not strategic so therefore we could use it if an opportunity presented itself.”

(Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by James Regan)

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India’s Singh highlights bright side of crashing rupee

Fri Aug 30, 2013 3:53am EDT

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to soothe worries about the Indian economy on Friday, telling parliament that the crashing value of the rupee was part of a needed adjustment that would make Asia’s third-largest economy more competitive.

The speech was the veteran economist’s first substantial comment to parliament since the rupee suffered its steepest ever monthly fall in recent weeks, bringing back memories of a 1991 balance of payments crisis that made Singh famous.

Reading from a written statement, the prime minister promised his government would reduce the “unsustainably large” current account deficit undermining the currency.

“Clearly we need to reduce our appetite for gold, economize the use of petroleum products and take steps to increase our imports,” he said.

But he said that a weaker currency was the natural outcome of several years of high inflation, and although the rupee had overshot in the foreign exchange market its decline would bring some economic benefits.

“To some extent, depreciation can be good for the economy as this will help to increase our export competitiveness and discourage imports,” he said.

Singh’s deft handling of the 1991 crisis helped launch 20 years of rapid economic growth and he has since been credited as the architect of India’s emergence as a serious economic power.

Now in his eighties, Singh seems to have lost some of that agility and is often pilloried for staying mostly out of the public eye while the country’s economy goes from bad to worse.

In response to his parliament speech, opposition leader Arun Jaitley said Singh’s track record as prime minister was of populist policies, not reform.

“If you continue to follow the course, then the legacy that you leave behind will not be the legacy that you left behind as the finance minister. That legacy was different,” Jaitley told the upper house.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by John Chalmers)

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