Private banks and wealth managers in South Africa are renowned for providing quality services to their clientele but which are the best? In the 12th edition of the Top Private Banks and Wealth Managers survey, clients ranked their wealth managers and private bankers on a range of products and services. The rankings feed into the overall scores to determine overall winners and winners in numerous archetypes.

The overall winners are:

Top Wealth Manager: Large Institutions – PSG Wealth

Top Wealth Manager: Boutiques – Centric Wealth Advisory

Top Private Bank – Nedbank Private Wealth

People’s Choice: Wealth Managers – Centric Wealth Advisory

People’s Choice: Private Banks – Investec Private Bank

Top Relationship Manager – Gené Scott from Centric Wealth Advisory

Top Private Banker – Hannalie van der Nest from Absa Private Wealth Banking and Redesh Singh from Nedbank Private Wealth

Download the summary report below.

Intellidex chairman Stuart Theobald, speaks to Bruce Whitfield on The Money Show about why South Africa’s GDP and trade figures are not signs of a country imploding.

 

 

Why are things in SA not a lot worse? The doom and gloom are palpable across the media and when talking to both business and government counterparts. Yet last week, trading updates from banks indicated record earnings.

Earlier this month, GDP figures showed the economy is now bigger than it was pre-Covid, despite the first quarter having experienced record load-shedding. Trade statistics show we are exporting and importing more than ever, with exports dominating over the past three years. These are not the signs of a country imploding, though the rhetoric around it would leave you expecting it to be.

Of course, there is lots to be angry about. Load-shedding could have been completely avoided had we done what everyone knew was needed, and we are doing now, back in the early 2000s, in opening up the electricity system to private generators who can compete. Our mining sector, the foundation of our economy, is crumbling under the weight of regulatory confusion and incompetence.

Levels of unemployment are completely unacceptable and pose a serious risk of social instability. And more proximate issues tend to dominate thinking: our ambiguous stance on Russia, which risks our trading relationships with the markets that consume the most value-added goods and services we produce; the dysfunction in local government that means potholed roads and increasingly erratic water supply. These are serious issues and resolving them must not be belittled. But we must also understand that the rump of the economy manages to keep ticking over despite them. In that lies opportunity: there is a critical mass of economic activity that enables us to solve problems if we harness it appropriately.

Markets have rallied back broadly to where we were before the infamous “Brigety moment” at the start of May.

This creates an interesting problem for valuations. At the peak of May’s sell-off, markets were quite mad, the Sandton Consensus was in a tizz about sovereign sanctions including on SA government bonds, which were just so completely counter historical precedent as to be mad.

SA markets are not used to foreign policy being a component in risk premia and clearly have struggled, and will for a bit longer, to price in issues.

Yet the bemusing farce of last week’s “peace” mission, which exposed SA to comparison with the rest of the world with its actions and rhetoric while in Kyiv and St Petersburg, has now reinforced a growing sense of anger among many investors that SA is seriously out of its depth regarding the path it is taking and the consequences it will generate.

It is now a struggle to find a serious Western SA watcher in the public or private sector who believes the country is really non-aligned. The actions of various EU states in recent days has reinforced this, albeit with the convenient excuse of the wrong paperwork.

The problem is that nothing is being done to shift perceptions, perhaps because nothing can be done.

Indeed international relations & co-operation minister Naledi Pandor doubled down last week. The glee with which the West seems to be given a kicking at every turn reinforces the view instead — whether that be Pandor’s lecturing or the presidential spokesperson’s bizarre outburst about missiles, which then crumbled as he was exposed to real interrogation by foreign media in Kyiv. His outburst was instructive because of its tone that somehow SA had a stance that was superior to everyone else’s. This is SA’s exceptionalism foreign policy style.

Some parts of the markets are hunting for the off-ramp for SA and assume there must be an about-turn in the stance as the economic and other consequences start to become obvious. This will not happen for a number of reasons.

First, the deeply embedded glee with which lecturing of the West is undertaken is simply too embedded and too much second nature to so many and overrides pragmatism on the size and significance of the relationships.

Second, the quality of the department of international relations & co-operation — of SA’s connections in Washington in particular — and the quality or strategic nature of foreign policy thinking (and particularly the links between foreign policy and economic policy) around the president and elsewhere in the government are so weak.

Risk and consequences

I just don’t believe Pretoria has a good understanding of the risk profile around the African Growth & Opportunity Act (Agoa), for instance, either in terms of logistics of how and why designation would be lost or in terms of economic consequences.

Just as markets never really needed to think on foreign policy, so it seemed nor did the department.

The third reason there cannot be an off-ramp is that economic shocks never come on day one.

We saw this with sovereign rating downgrades several years back when there was a slow repricing over time and then slowly after the event as bond holdings were reduced by foreigners. The trend is still continuing.

Locals tried to latch onto a narrative that SA would be back to investment grade within a few years, but that view is now dying off given the multitude of risks crystallising — such as foreign policy, state-owned enterprises, social issues and load-shedding. These risks have offset, in rating terms, better shorter-term fiscal outcomes. The risks around the next ratings moves are now seen by markets as just as likely to the downside (within junk territory) as to the upside.

We also saw this with the Financial Action Task Force greylisting; again nothing happened on day one. And the effect is slowly building as foreign banks and other intermediaries layer on more paperwork, checks and due diligence, which raises costs for SA banking intermediation. Over time (we think towards the end of 2023) many foreign banks will make longer-term assessments of whether SA can be off the list within a short period. They are likely to decide no, given slow progress on actual substantive implementation of the requirements — and therefore further tighten the screws

So it is now again — and this is what I think should worry SA more than the sanctions risk that the Reserve Bank has highlighted — that there is a broader tightening of the screws by investors based on SA’s foreign policy stance. This will apply to everything from official aid and other co-operation to most obviously Agoa but also portfolio investments.

There is a risk that a more sceptical lens will now be put on SA’s sovereign environmental, social and governance ratings internally within many investors. Such things are subtle and behind the scenes. There will be no announcements and no real ability to track it, or for the media to cover it beyond anecdotes.

Putin visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting SA for the Brics summit would accelerate all this and harden views for both the public and private sector offshore, though such a visit is looking less likely (albeit Putin seems to want to inflict some pain on President Cyril Ramaphosa with a last-minute decision).

In this context, and with the reminder of the past few days that SA is also rapidly losing friends outside the US, so the recent rally in markets looks rather temporary, with many deep foreign policy potholes ahead, assuming that SA indeed doesn’t take an off-ramp.

All this is entirely within the elected government’s prerogative.

But the final reason there is unlikely to be a change is that market signals are — at best — poorly understood by policymakers and at worst are antagonistic (such as white monopoly capital dictating foreign policy).

While the Treasury has been able to imbue into the cabinet a more general worry over debt levels into a more general acceptance of restraint in fiscal policy, it has not yet been able to slam home enough of the message on what higher debt service costs, now with an even steeper curve, mean. Or quite how paper thin auction uptake is at the moment and in general how weak bond market liquidity is, even if notionally on the surface “all is fine”.

Equally, the economy has shown remarkable resilience to load-shedding in recent data, but dealing with a deeper shock and tightening of financial conditions is quite another thing.

All this portends an extremely rocky time ahead, especially when one side doesn’t fully understand the risks being taken. SA exceptionalism, after all, is not a thing when it comes to the functioning of the bond market.

• Peter Attard Montalto leads on political economy, markets and the just energy transition at Intellidex. This article first appeared in Business Day.

Peter Attard Montalto, Managing Director at Intellidex, spoke with Newzroom Afrika’s Stephen Grootes after the National Assembly passed the National Health Insurance Bill.

AGM season this year continues to see significant shareholder votes against remuneration. Unhappiness is expressed through “nonbinding” votes on remuneration policies and implementation of those policies.

According to JSE listings rules, if a company gets less than 75% support from shareholders, it must “engage” with those shareholders to discuss the issues.

With the present raft of AGMs, sharply negative views have been expressed. For example, shipping company Grindrod could muster only 48% support for its implementation report and gold miner Sibanye 53%. But the unhappiness wasn’t over the quantum of the payments — indeed, others such as Kumba Iron Ore (99%), Old Mutual (96%) and MTN (95%) have been getting the nod from shareholders despite often paying more.

It is also hard to see in the voting pattern a clear link between pay and performance. Grindrod’s share price doubled in the relevant year, for example. Rather, the problem shareholders seem to have is with the level of discretion that boards and management have in determining the variable pay components of packages.

This might strike you as an odd thing to get so hit up about. Discretion is what you should endow a board of directors with if you want them to be empowered to run a company. However, given the risk of “management capture” of boards, governance trends have been to strip discretion back as much as possible. The remuneration policy should set out that incentives are tied to objective outcomes. The implementation report should make clear how those outcomes were achieved and how they translated into remuneration.

However, I assure you that few, if any, fund managers sit down and study the remuneration reports in detail to come to a view on whether to endorse them. Indeed, fund managers are much more interested in the detail of the performance of the business. Instead, proxy advisers, a type of consulting firm, tell shareholders what they say best practice is and how the company complies with it.

If a company is found lacking on any of the technical requirements of best practice, in the view of the proxy adviser, they get a red mark. Some shareholders then mechanically vote their shares accordingly.

Some shareholders are more active. In the chaos of the Covid-19 crisis, a lot of remuneration rules books were torn up and some shareholders got upset about it. Several performance indicators suddenly became impossible to hit, and for a period it was all about survival.

Flight risk

Some companies faced considerable flight risk, especially in industries such as banking where the battle for talent is acute. As a result, discretion made a comeback and new incentives were suddenly created to compensate executives with performance now tied to trading through the Covid-19 period. That meant trouble for some companies that felt executives should instead be feeling the pain of shareholders.

This period seems to have marked the beginning of a more activist role by shareholders on remuneration. Until then, it was virtually unheard of for shareholders to vote against remuneration. There was wide shock when negative shareholder votes became more frequent in 2020. The engagements companies were required to make were done urgently and treated as hallowed affairs for directors to entreat shareholders to understand the wisdom of their remuneration approach. But some companies were shocked to find that shareholders often couldn’t be bothered to show up.

For example, after Capitec got a rather bruising 53% vote on its implementation report in 2022, it invited shareholders to engage, but the invitation was not taken up. This has become routine — and the response has been increasing cynicism from companies. When votes fall short of requirements, there is now a boilerplate invitation added to the AGM results announcement inviting shareholders to email in their issues of concern. Companies don’t often comment when nothing follows.

Indeed, when Foschini Group publicly protested in 2021 about shareholders engaging in meetings with it then voting against the policy, it found itself even more in shareholders’ bad books.

Engagement, however, does sometimes help. Capitec last month managed to scrape through its 2023 shareholder vote with just over 75% support, a considerable improvement. Despite shareholders not taking up its offer to engage, it went out proactively and discussed the issues with its biggest shareholders and made changes to its approach. Those amounted to stripping out discretion and making the performance targets more challenging. Capitec made the effort, but increasingly companies are seeing the votes as irrelevant, to be met only by going through the motions of engagement.

Some shareholders advocate greater clout and amendments to the Companies Act to provide that have been contemplated. But shareholders should take seriously their role in engaging with companies where they vote against remuneration reports to explain what it would take to earn their votes. Until then, it would seem reckless to make the votes binding, substantially disrupting the board’s ability to manage the business.

So while we are seeing some improvement this AGM season, we have some way to go for investors and boards to find each other on remuneration.

Stuart Theobald is chair of Intellidex. This article first appeared in Business Day

South Africans don’t think often enough of the counterfactual narratives on what a slightly different set of assumptions would lead to.

Take for instance department of mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe’s comments last week that the department is not responsible for the abysmal Fraser ranking of SA among mining jurisdictions. On one overly simplistic level he is, of course, right. The department isn’t surveyed as part of this sentiment-based indicator of mining executives.

Yet to say the department is not responsible is preposterous. What the minister was doing was essentially throwing down the political gauntlet to the new Minerals Council boss, barely a day into the job.

The alternative narratives in taking the minister’s line just make no sense. If the department is doing nothing wrong and SA executives are just too lazy to promote SA as a mining destination, one would have to seriously question their rationality — which would make no sense. In fact, the industry could have arguably gone out of its way for too long to paper over the cracks with diplomatic language in the mining-doing-business environment.

The other option, one might argue, is that mining executives should back SA more based on nationalistic loyalties. Yet this would misunderstand these companies as global in nature. The survey is designed to offset this bias.

The reality is more mundane: the department creates the environment, which affects the sentiment that appears in the survey.

The minister’s line, however, is just one of many glimpses emerging of where the narrative and communications lines will focus before next year’s elections: others must be blamed.

Preposterous

The worst line is the one, which everyone from the president down has uttered, that the population should understand that load-shedding is simply the result of too much demand from too much good electrification work the ANC government has done in the past 25 years.

If this were true, it would mean that there would be no role for the government in planning to meet demand, and that having such a policy role in thinking about supply is not their job. It would also mean that the responsibility should be on the electorate to cut back on usage.

These are obviously preposterous. Demand policy — including electrification — is a public good. So is the separate concern of the government to ensure appropriate energy planning and an appropriate energy system mechanism to get megawatts on grid fast enough through whatever efficient means it can set up.

This supply-side goal has not been reached due to many failures over 25 years that the government is now swiftly correcting through the national energy crisis committee, but that will take time to boost supply.

More of these problematic narratives will emerge in the next year. The awkward question is whether the electorate will buy them.

In an emotive environment with a strong lack of trust and historical party stickiness (the largest vote choice will be for a party, particularly the ANC, versus not voting), such messages, as bizarre as they are, can well have an effect. Indeed, the lesson always must be: don’t overplay the downside in the ANC. The polling and by-election results reinforce that point, and hence even if my baseline is that the ANC gets 47% next year, the probability of a nose above 50% is now meaningfully higher than it was in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Problematic

But narratives come unstuck when real things have to be done. And we may well see more of that in future. The National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill just passed by the National Assembly portfolio committee on health will become unstuck as many legal challenge mount after it is eventually passed. The ability to pass legislation that is likely to be so fraught with legal issues regarding constitutional powers and the effects on individuals such as medical aid holders is quite something.

Similarly, the Electoral Amendment Bill may well prove problematic. I am still sceptical that it will be used in the elections in 2024 rather than drowning under legal challenges due to the biases it produces.

Despite getting rid of the pointless state of disaster, the desire to squeeze through all manner of procurements on an emergency basis for new power may well become unstuck legally. Karpowership remains the most obvious example. Like other problematic narratives that issue has now taken on a life of its own, pitting the forces of good versus evil against each other — though whom one puts in each of those buckets might well differ depending on the political constituency being asked.

I commented earlier this year that a “simple” 2022 had given way to a more contested 2023, and indeed that contested 2023 might give way to a fraught, desperate and noisy 2024 as layers of PR and spin have to be cut away from all sides to see what is going on underneath. This morass for at least a year longer is what is keeping markets negative here. There is not an easy end point or off-ramp.

Still, we can construct a range of narratives. After we get through the winter peak, inflation will be about two percentage points lower, and let’s say that the Brics summit is moved or is virtual — then the dynamic may well improve somewhat, with recertification of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) looking risky but with a path through.

Equally, however, we might see markets sceptical on the amount of reform taking place; inflation stickier; the Fed or others still having to hike rates; Russian President Vladimir Putin having been to SA; and Agoa recertification looking shaky.

The problem is that the probabilities of these two quite different scenarios are about similar, which markets and investors struggle with. All of this suggests that things remain uncertain until there is clarity.

Such clarity won’t be helped by the noise to come. But there are calm voices to listen to, such as last week’s Operation Vulindlela update. Some anchor points need to be held onto through this period, even if they will take time to bear full fruit.

Until then, batten down the hatches.

• Peter Attard Montalto leads on political economy, markets and the just energy transition at Intellidex. This article first appeared in Business Day.