COMPANY NEWS IN BRIEF

19 July 2021 | Business

Standard Bank to buy Liberty stake

Standard Bank is to buy the rest of insurer Liberty Holdings that it does not already own for R10.6 billion, creating a financial conglomerate that will expand across the continent.

Standard Bank already has a 54% stake in insurer and asset manager Liberty, whose shares soared 25% on the news. Africa's largest bank by assets said the move was a natural progression in their relationship that was in line with its strategy of offering a wider set of financial services to its customers across the continent.

"This will be a whole that will be much greater than the sum of its parts," Chief Executive Officer Sim Tshabalala said. He said the deal would also bring capital efficiencies and growth opportunities, with insurance penetration in African markets at just 17% or lower.

The two groups said the merger would give them superior scale and more ability to capitalise on one another's customer bases, complimentary products and technology.

Liberty Chief Executive David Munro said that the deal would also give Liberty the chance to tap back into markets elsewhere on the continent, something the company has attempted previously.-Nampa/Reuters

Shoprite, SPAR chains race to restock

South Africa's big retailers are working round the clock to replenish shelves with food in hundreds of stores looted this week in some of the country's worst unrest for years, they said on Friday.

Retailers also said they are racing to keep stores unaffected by the violence stocked as some shoppers were stripping shelves with panic buying, though blocked roads and disruptions to supply chains were hampering their efforts.

Retailers were just starting to recover from months of coronavirus restrictions when the violence triggered by the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma erupted and the looting could now set them back several months.

Massmart, which is majority owned by US retail giant Walmart Inc, said protesters had looted 41 of its stores and two of its distribution centres, with four sites suffering significant damage from arson.

"The timeline to reopen will be quick in some locations whilst in others it will be dependent on the nature and extent of the damage and on the availability of the relevant resources and supply chains," TFG said. -Nampa/Reuters

Puma raises 2021 outlook

German sportswear company Puma raised its 2021 sales outlook on Friday, boosted by strong second quarter demand, especially in North America.

Puma said it now expects 2021 currency-adjusted sales to rise by at least 20%, up from its previous forecast of mid-teens sales growth for the year.

It also specified full-year operating profit guidance, now expecting earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) between 400 and 500 million euros (US$472-590 million).

Second quarter currency-adjusted sales nearly doubled to 1.589 billion euros and EBIT swung to a profit of around 109 million euros, Puma said. -Nampa/Reuters

Aurora to go public via merger

Self-driving technology startup Aurora will go public through a deal with a blank-check firm backed by Silicon Valley heavyweights Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus, giving the combined company a pro-forma market capitalization of US$13 billion.

The deal with Reinvent Technology Partners Y will include a private placement of $1 billion from investors such as Baillie Gifford, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Uber Technologies Inc and Volvo Group, Aurora said on Thursday.

Investor interest in autonomous driving and associated technologies has seen an uptick in recent times, with more than half a dozen lidar sensor manufacturers going public through blank-check mergers since last year.

"We believe Aurora will be the first to commercialize self-driving technology at scale for the U.S. trucking and passenger transportation markets," Mark Pincus, co-founder of Reinvent, said.

Aurora expects to launch first in trucking, a US$700 billion market with attractive unit economics, in late 2023 and also expand into adjacent verticals including last-mile delivery and ride-hailing.

Founded in 2017, the company is led by former heads of self-driving programs at Google, Uber Technologies Inc and Tesla Inc.-Nampa/Reuters

Insurer UnitedHealth raises profit

UnitedHealth Group Inc raised its full-year earnings target for the second time this year, after a strong performance mainly in its Optum unit helped the largest US health insurer beat quarterly profit expectations.

The unit, which manages drug benefits and offers healthcare data analytics services, has been helping the company withstand fluctuations in its core health insurance business due to pandemic-induced changes in patients' use of medical services.

Spending on medical services at the company's health insurance business, UnitedHealthcare, rebounded in the latter part of last year due to Covid-19 testing and treatment-related customer assistance measures, after patients and hospitals had delayed care at the height of the pandemic.

For the quarter ended June 30, the company reported a medical loss ratio - the percentage of premiums spent on medical services - of 82.8%, compared with 70.2% a year earlier. Analysts were expecting 83.08%, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

"This is a solid start to MCO (managed care organization) earnings season with core utilization rebounding but still below normalized levels," Evercore ISI analyst Michael Newshel said.-Nampa/Reuters

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