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Johannesburg – Moody’s has affirmed the Bidvest Group at lower medium grade, although the rating has a negative outlook.

This could see it downgraded to a notch above junk. It is currently rated at the same level as Moody’s rates SA, while Fitch and S&P have SA one level above junk.

In a statement released late on Monday, Moody’s said Bidvest – the industrial conglomerate – was affirmed at baa2 on a local currency basis, while its Aa1.za national long-term and p-1.za short-term ratings were also affirmed.

However, the outlook is negative.

“Today’s [Monday’s] affirmation reflects Bidvest’s stable operational and financial profile, as well as diversified mix of businesses within South Africa”, says Dion Bate a VP and senior analyst at the big 3 ratings agency.

Bidvest’s operations are correlated to the political, social and economic environment in South Africa.

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London – Lloyds bank has agreed to buy US credit card business MBNA from Bank of America for 1.9 billion pounds ($2.4 billion), the British bank said on Tuesday.

The acquisition of MBNA will help Lloyds raise its share of the British credit card market from 15 per cent to 26 per cent, increasing its annual revenue by some 650 million pounds, it said.

“The MBNA brand and portfolio are a good fit with our existing card business and we will focus on providing its customers with excellent service and value,” Antonio Horta-Osorio, Lloyds’ chief executive, said in a statement.

“Our low cost to income ratio and proven integration capabilities will deliver significant synergies and value to our shareholders,” Horta-Osorio said.

The deal for MBNA, which has assets totalling some 7 billion pounds, is expected to be completed in the first half of 2017, subject to regulatory approval.

It includes an undertaking by Lloyds to cover claims valued at 240 million pounds for mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI), Lloyds said.

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Chicago – Darren Woods, the man replacing Rex Tillerson as the leader of America’s most influential energy giant, helped transform Exxon Mobil’s refining business from a poor cousin of oil production to the primary profit generator.

Woods, the company’s refining boss since 2012, was named the next chairman and chief executive officer effective Jan. 1 after President-elect Donald Trump picked Tillerson to become US Secretary of State, the Irving, Texas-based oil company said in a statement Wednesday. Even if Tillerson doesn’t become America’s top diplomat – three Republican senators have expressed misgivings about his nomination – he was due to leave no later than March when he reaches Exxon’s mandatory retirement age.

Woods, 51, inherits a drilling and refining behemoth hamstrung by a 2 1/2-year slump in energy markets, ill-timed investments in North American shale and Russia, and allegations of deceiving investors with a climate-change cover-up. Still, Trump’s election, OPEC’s plan to cut production and Woods’s ability to boost the value of the company’s refineries have all combined to change the face of the industry for Exxon heading into the future.

“Validating the integrated model will be the challenge for the next leader of Exxon,” said Vincent Piazza, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in New York. “Downstream and chemicals have been the few bright spots counterbalancing the negative impact of prices on the upstream segment.”

Woods’s elevation to chairman and CEO was telegraphed with his promotion to president in January, the same time he became a member of the board of directors. He’s been on the six-person management committee that oversees day-to-day operations since June 2014. He steps into the new roles effective January 1.

British Telecoms: Operate Globally, Deliver Locally

With customers in 180 countries, British Telecoms (BT) is one of the world’s leading providers of communications services and solutions.

“We have 170 00 people serving leading multinational companies – meaning we operate globally, but deliver locally,” said BT Africa, Africa Pacific and United Arab Emirates President, Kevin Taylor.

“We’re organised around our 6 200 customers – and our unique breadth of scope, reach and capability means we solve the most complex business communications requirements on a global scale. Simply put, we help our customers use communications to find new ways of doing business. And it’s all underpinned by world-leading security and customer service.

“Our portfolio strategy, the Cloud of Clouds, combines cloud services, (information technology) integration skills, a global network and professional security expertise. It means our customers can connect easily and securely to the ­applications and data they need, wherever they are in the world”, said Taylor during his recent visit to South Africa.

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Johannesburg – The acceleration of inflation to the highest level in nine months and the drop of retail sales to their lowest level in more than two years will have heightened the concerns held by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the SA Reserve Bank about the health of the economy.

Headline consumer inflation accelerated to an annualised 6.6 percent as expected in November from 6.4 percent in October, data from Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) showed on Wednesday, boosted by increasing food and transport prices.

Retail sales unexpectedly fell for the first time this year in October, suggesting that the Reserve Bank might continue to hold off raising interest rates in January to take pressure off the economy.

StatsSA said retail sales were down 0.2 percent year-on-year in October, following a revised increase of 1.6 percent in September.

Prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages, which comprise 15.4 percent of the consumer price index, climbed 11.6 percent from a year earlier, while fuel costs rose 5.6 percent.

The Reserve Bank last month left interest rates unchanged for a fourth straight meeting this year, even as it warned that risks to inflation may force it to reassess its call that the policy tightening cycle is near an end. It said inflation will peak at 6.6 percent in this quarter, then slow to 5.8 percent next year and 5.5 percent in 2018.

The bank has hiked the benchmark repo by a total of 200 basis points since early 2014, but has kept it unchanged at 7 percent since the last increase in March as economic growth, traditionally been driven by consumer demand, remains weak.

New York – The US Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter point on Wednesday and signalled a faster pace of increases in 2017.

This comes as the Trump administration takes over with promises to boost growth through tax cuts, spending and deregulation.
The rate increase, regarded as a virtual certainty by financial markets in the wake of a string of generally strong economic reports, raised the target federal funds rate 25 basis points to between 0.50 percent and 0.75 percent.

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New York – Boeing once helped the US beat the Soviet Union in the race to the moon.

Now the company intends to go toe-to-toe with newcomers such as billionaire Elon Musk in the next era of space exploration and commerce.

Boeing Chief Executive Officer  Dennis Muilenburg sketched out a Jetsons-like future at a conference Tuesday, envisioning a commercial space-travel market with dozens of destinations orbiting the Earth and hypersonic aircraft shuttling travelers between continents in two hours or less.

And Boeing intends to be a key player in the initial push to send humans to Mars, maybe even beating Musk to his long-time goal.

“I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” Muilenburg said at the Chicago event on innovation, which was sponsored by the Atlantic magazine.

Like Musk’s SpaceX, Boeing is focused on building out the commercial space sector near earth as spaceflight becomes more routine, while developing technology to venture far beyond the moon.

The Chicago-based aerospace giant is working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop a heavy-lift rocket called the Space Launch System for deep space exploration. Boeing and SpaceX are also the first commercial companies NASA selected to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.\

Mars Transport

Musk last week welcomed competitors as he unveiled a SpaceX craft that would dwarf the workhorse of Apollo missions of a half-century ago, hauling 100 travellers to Mars with cruise-ship-style amenities.

“The goal of SpaceX really is to build the transport system. It’s like building the Union Pacific railroad,” Musk told a space conference, as he laid out a plan to bring travel to Mars to a mass market with tickets priced one day as low as $100 000.

Boeing built the first stage for the Saturn V, the most powerful U.S. rocket ever built, which took men to the moon.

Nowadays, Muilenburg sees space tourism closer to home “blossoming over the next couple of decades into a viable commercial market.”

The International Space Station could be joined in low-earth orbit by dozens of hotels and companies pursuing micro-gravity manufacturing and research, he said.

“I think it’s a fascinating area for us,” he said.

Muilenburg said Boeing will make spacecraft for the new era of tourists. He also sees potential for hypersonic aircraft, traveling at upwards of three times the speed of sound.

Science Fiction

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are among the space heavyweights developing experimental aircraft that could fly U.S. travelers at speeds right out of a science fiction movie.

Lockheed’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 is being designed to zip through the sky at Mach 20 (about 13,000 miles per hour), flying between New York and Los Angeles in 12 minutes. Boeing’s X-51A WaveRider, which relied on its own shock waves for compression lift, reached Mach 5.1 in 2013.

Costs will need to drop substantially before these experimental spacecraft can be seriously considered for commercial use, Muilenburg said.

“That business model isn’t closed yet. At some point it will,” he said. “The future of innovation has to include not only the technology, but economic viability.”