Though Jacob Zuma’s tenure as leader of SA is generally regarded as an economic disaster, investors would still have nearly trebled the value of their nominal investments on the JSE over the 10-year timeframe of his time in office.
“The grass is not always greener on the other side, and investors should keep in mind that South African listed-equity markets still deliver competitive returns,” says GraySwan Investments analyst Duncan Theron.
Local equities, which are dominated by the rand hedges, had performed in line with developed markets over the past 10 years, returning an average of 11% a year in rand terms, Theron says. Over this period, the rand depreciated by an average of 6% a year against the dollar.
When Zuma took over as president in May 2009, the all share was at 21,705 points. By the time he left, it had hit a high of 61,776.70 points.
The nearly threefold rise obscures a number of developments which could have made an investment risky.
For example, any exposure to mining stocks would have left the average investor out of money because of a weaker global commodities cycle during the same period. Rand hedges, banks and financials would have been the best bets, due to the weakening local currency under Zuma.
The rand was at R8.30 when he took over amid a global financial crisis; it increased in value to R6.50 in April 2011. But thereafter sentiment turned negative.
Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s abrupt removal in December 2015, when the rand hit R17.78/$, was preceded by a gradually depreciating trend. At the beginning of 2014 the rand breached R11, and only a few months later R12. In August 2015 the R13 level was breached. After Pravin Gordhan’s reappointment the rand recovered a lot of the lost ground, firming to R13.42 in March 2017, only to lose ground again after Gordhan was replaced by Malusi Gigaba.
In the light of all this uncertainty, rand hedges remained the average investor’s best bet, notwithstanding the fact that consumer inflation remained relatively well behaved during Zuma’s tenure.
Stanlib retail investment director Paul Hansen says what was even more unusual about the South African equity market was that it was regarded as risky by global standards. “And riskier markets go up more and usually down more too.”
Inflation was slightly above 6% when Zuma took over — versus the Reserve Bank’s 3% to 6% target, and crossed 6% only marginally at times, even firming to below 4% in 2015.
One major beneficiary of policy changes under Zuma is Aspen Pharmacare, which has been winning large portions of the massive expansion of the roll-out of antiretroviral treatment under Zuma’s administration. This includes a 20% stake in a continuing tender, which ends on April 1, worth an estimated R14bn.
Before this, the company was providing more than 50% of generic antiretrovirals to state-run hospitals.
Aspen’s share price has surged just under 700% since the beginning of 2009.
Investors would have done well to shun the mining sector over the period. Zuma took over at the tail-end of the cyclical high of the commodity cycle, notably marked by the fall in ArcelorMittal SA’s share price.
In May 2009, British American Tobacco could be bought for R225 a share. When Zuma left, it was at R700. Global luxury goods group Richemont, a member of the Rupert stable, was only R14 but reached a record high of R131.53 on October 27 2017.
The low-inflation environment of stable interest rates benefited banks, with FirstRand rising from R13 in 2009 to R75 in February 2018. Standard Bank grew from R62 to R220.
Investors would have done well to shun the mining sector over the period. Zuma took over at the tail-end of the cyclical high of the commodity cycle, notably marked by the fall in ArcelorMittal SA’s share price. In June 2008 the iron and steel blue chip (at the time) could be bought for R240 a share. In March 2009 it was at R66, briefly spiking to R109 in September 2009, before an extended slump took it to its present R2.80.
The performance of long-term blue chip and bastion of the South African economy Anglo American was not much better. In June 2008 Anglo was at a lofty R539. When Zuma took over it was at R153, before hitting a low of R55 in January 2016. It is now at R280, after failing to hold on to recent levels above R300.
Sasol is another sorry story, despite it remaining the bedrock investment of many reputable asset managers. Sasol was at R304 in May 2009, rising to R640 in June 2014. It is now trading at about R400, essentially remaining flat over the past decade.
Platinum and gold shares still have to recover the ground lost during the Zuma years. AngloGold Ashanti is at R111 from R260 in May 2009. After reaching a high of R1,325 in May 2008, Anglo American Platinum is at R359, and Impala Platinum is at R28 from R173 in May 2009.
Industrials and retailers have held their own, with Remgro at R235 from R72 in May 2009.
Taking a punt on Shoprite instead of Pick n Pay in May 2009 would have been the better option, with Shoprite rising from R54 to R260. Pick n Pay only just more than doubled from R32 to R70.
These shares are, however, dwarfed by one that outpaced them all. Had you bought Naspers at R190 in May 2009, you would have enjoyed growth of 1,800% in your investment. Some analysts believe Naspers can continue on its growth path.
Vestact analyst Paul Theron says Naspers trades at a level that grossly underestimates its stake in Chinese internet company Tencent. “Consider buying at present levels,” he says.