COMPANY NEWS IN BRIEF
Astral Foods swung into its first loss in its 23-year history as South Africa's largest poultry producer grappled with "staggering" load shedding, water disruption and bird flu costs of R2.1 billion.
While revenue was stable at R19.3 billion in its year to end-September, it swung into a loss of just over R512 million, ending the period with neither an interim nor final dividend.
"Load shedding-related and bird flu costs decimated the group's earnings for 2023," said CEO Chris Schutte in a statement.
Astral was hit by significant cash outflows as it grappled with operational headwinds as well as weak trading conditions during the year. Total capital expenditure of R398 million also included capital spent on emergency diesel generators and additional water storage of R168 million.
Its poultry division, which contributed 82% towards total external revenue, was hit by a decline in sales volumes of 9.6%, but it added that all product from the "big bird era" has now been cleared.
Broiler slaughter numbers decreased by 15.3% after production cutbacks were implemented in an effort to clear the backlog in processing volumes, it said.-Fin24
Win for Checkers as court orders PnP
The Western Cape High Court has ordered Pick n Pay to destroy the product packaging of its premium Crafted Collection brand of goods due to close similarities with the competing Forage and Feast range sold by Checkers.
Pick n Pay must destroy "all printed materials, product packaging, and the like, bearing the infringing get-ups," in the presence of an authorised representative of Checkers, the court found.
Acting judge president Patricia Goliath also ordered that an enquiry be held to determine what damages Pick n Pay needs to pay its retail rival.
In her ruling, Goliath found that the get-up of Pick n Pay's Crafted Collection could "deceive the public" into thinking the products were the same as the Forage and Feast premium range sold by Checkers.
In a retail environment, the term "get-up" refers to the appearance and packing of goods. Checkers launched its Forage and Feast range of products, which includes things like premium teas, olive oils, rusks and chocolates, in November 2020.-Fin24
Microsoft hires Sam Altman
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Monday announced the hiring of OpenAI's Sam Altman and other members of his team, days after the co-founder of the venture behind ChatGPT was fired.
"The mission continues," Altman, who rose to fame with the launch of the artificial intelligence chatbot last year, posted on X, formerly Twitter.
Nadella wrote on X that Altman "will be joining Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research team," along with OpenAI co-founder Greg Brockman and their colleagues.
OpenAI's board sacked Altman on Friday, prompting other high-profile departures from the company as well as a reported push by major investors to bring him back.-Fin24
Netcare impresses with upbeat forecast
Netcare shares jumped on Monday, as the group posted a sharp earnings increase – and said it expected growing profit margins in the next year.
The hospital group reported a 27% increase in adjusted headline earnings for the year to end-September, with revenue up 10% to almost R24 billion. Its dividend was hiked by 30% to 65c.
Total paid patient days increased by almost 7%, while its hospital occupancy (the percentage of beds that are filled) increased to more than 64%, from 60% in the previous year.
The group saw strong growth in demand for mental healthcare, with mental health patient days increasing by almost 13% and occupancy reaching 73%.
"Although there has been limited growth in medical scheme membership, the pool of covered lives remains resilient and underscores the sustainable demand for quality private healthcare which is exacerbated by the growing disease burden and ageing insured population," Netcare said in its results statement.-Fin24
Discovery finalising its own forensic probe
Medical schemes have launched their own investigations of Mediclinic’s billing practices, with Discovery saying its report will be finalised in the coming weeks.
Earlier this year, a person who claimed to be a former Mediclinic employee sent an email to more than 50 principal officers of some of South Africa's largest medical schemes.
It contained detailed information about what the person claimed to be their experience as a former clinical case manager at six Mediclinic hospitals in the Western Cape and Gauteng.
In addition, a former Mediclinic employee contacted News24 with similar claims at two hospitals.
Both painted a picture of widespread manipulation of patients' clinical coding (which is used for medical scheme claims) to Mediclinic's alleged financial benefit.
Separately, both claimed to have observed instances where the coding on accounts of patients who died in a hospital emergency room was changed to reflect an ICU death instead.-Fin24
PetroSA accused of failing to charter fees
The owner of a crude oil tanker has accused PetroSA of failing to pay it millions of rands in charter fees and threatened to attach South African Airways' assets if it is not paid.
Chemical and oil tanker UOG Sparta brought its R14.5 million (US$789 650) demand for payment in a New York court on 25 October.
A few days later, the court issued PetroSA with a summons, giving it 21 days to answer the complaint. If the state-owned oil and gas firm fails to answer the charges, a default judgment will be entered against it.
While UOG does not hold SAA directly responsible for the non-payment, it has threatened to attach the state-owned airline's assets as a garnishee - a third party responsible for covering someone else's debts.
In response to queries from News24, SAA said it had not been served with any court papers. "Until then, we are not a litigant in this matter. SAA needs to be served with the court papers through what is called as substituted service because we have no office in the US." PetroSA did not respond to requests for comment.-Fin24
MTN fights terror charges
MTN, Africa’s biggest telecoms company, could find itself coughing up millions if not billions of dollars to a group of US citizens who accuse the company of – wittingly or unwittingly – aiding terrorist attacks in Iran and Afghanistan.
The case against MTN has reached a stage where the plaintiff and defendant agreed at the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York on the timelines to be considered when the case is heard.
In court papers, the MTN Group and several other global telecommunications giants are being accused by a group of US citizens, who were directly affected by the violence, of sponsoring terrorist attacks in Iran and Afghanistan between 2011 and 2019.
MTN has agreed to a timeline within which it will supply the legal representatives of the plaintiffs in the matter – represented by a team of international law firms – with information that would be used during litigation.
The plaintiffs in the matter allege that companies, including the MTN Group and its subsidiary, MTN Dubai, violated the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) and the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (Jasta) by supporting terrorist activities, some of which claimed American lives.-Fin24
Standard Chartered exiting 5 African countries
In early 2022, UK-headquartered Standard Chartered Bank announced it was exiting five African countries and partially exiting two others - breaking its ‘here for good’ brand promise after more than a century on the continent.
A year earlier, another British-based bank but a fairly new entrant, Atlas Mara withdrew from seven markets, walking away from its bold statement, "Africa: too big to ignore", after only seven years.
Barclays sold its majority stake in Barclays Africa Group in 2017 and in August 2022 sold its remaining stake in the rebranded ABSA, exiting a region it had first entered 90 years before. Credit Suisse and France's BNP Paribas also pulled out in 2022.
The reasons for exit, they said, was generally a need to refocus on core markets to achieve growth and scale due to the challenging African retail banking environment.
Many of the more than 1 000 financial industry players gathered in Lome, Togo in mid-November to debate how the industry can unlock a US$1.5 trillion potential market by expanding banking, insurance and capital markets penetration, had a very different view. Many of the sessions were made public via the internet.-Fin24