SAMANTHA ENSLIN-PAYNE: Brick upon brick of bad business news

17 March 2019 - 00:05 By SAMANTHA ENSLIN-PAYNE

Why are more and more iconic South African companies hitting the wall or seeing the wall heading their way as they frantically look for a way around it?
Group Five has collapsed, and other companies have suffered dramatic sell-offs in their shares as investors worry over disclosure or debt. Several companies' offshore expansions are floundering and others are cutting staff and operations.
Business confidence has crashed to a two-year low.
Why now, when weak economic growth, feeble consumer spending and high unemployment have been the shaky foundation of South African business for years? Why now? With the years of state capture behind us (naive, maybe?) businesses should be optimistic. Why does the first quarter feel like such a bloodbath? Isn't it December already? We need a break.
There are some common denominators among companies in trouble. One is poor execution of projects or strategy.
Group Five's demise comes as constraints on government spending meant contracts for big infrastructure projects dried up. But reports this week also point to problems with Group Five's execution of key projects.
Woolworths and Famous Brands, which bet big on offshore acquisitions, are struggling to make them work. Taste Holdings' gamble on rolling out Starbucks and Domino's Pizza in SA has not gained traction, and Grand Parade Investments (owner of the licence for Burger King in SA) has thrown in the towel on international brands Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins.
Another common thread among poor-performing businesses is long-serving CEOs. Carlo Gonzaga at Taste and Peter Staude at Tongaat Hulett warmed their seats for almost two decades before shareholders called time.
At Aspen, CEO Stephen Saad, deputy CEO Gus Attridge and CFO Sean Capazorio have been in their positions since 1999. Shareholders are concerned about its hefty debt, and some analysts have called for new leadership. At Tongaat, PwC will determine if its financials in the past few years were accurate. But it's not just missteps at these companies that have cast a pall. Standard Bank, Sibanye, Netcare and Coca-Cola are all cutting jobs.
The obstacles companies face are often of their own making, but the troubled state has added to the gloom. Renewed load-shedding is hurting, with, for example, a small Pick n Pay store in Johannesburg losing R100,000 in revenue in just a day of power cuts. Extrapolate that to many stores at many companies and to factories and there will be a snowball effect.
The past decade has been brick upon brick of bad news. And there is now a cold realisation that rebuilding after the damage of state capture is a job years in the making. Companies, though, also need to make sure their own houses are in order.
• Enslin-Payne is deputy editor of Business Times. Follow her on Twitter @SamEnslinPayne

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