Steinhoff rocked as CEO Jooste quits over Accounting wrongdoing

Steinhoff International Holdings NV plunged after its chief executive officer resigned amid accounting irregularities, in a reversal of fortune for a south African billionaire who upended the retail industry in Africa and Europe via a series of acquisitions.

The owner of the France-based Conforama furniture chain, Mattress Firm in the U.S. and Poundland in the U.K. said Tuesday that CEO Markus Jooste quit as it appointed auditor PwC to probe the matter. The stock slumped as much as 62 percent early Wednesday in Johannesburg.

The findings mark a striking turnabout for billionaire Christo Wiese, South Africa’s fourth-richest man and biggest shareholder in the company. He became an investor after selling his African clothing chain Pep to Steinhoff in 2014, and has since led an acquisition drive around the world alongside long-term ally Jooste, who has been with the company since 1988. In addition to acquisitions like Mattress Firm, the company has made plays for appliance chain Darty in France and retailer Argos in the U.K.

Wiese, 76, didn’t immediately respond to calls to his office and mobile phone. He has a net worth of $4.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The findings have implications for Africa’s two largest retailers, Steinhoff Africa Retail Ltd., which was spun off from its parent in September, and grocery chain Shoprite Holdings Ltd,. in which Wiese is also the biggest shareholder. STAR, as Steinhoff Africa Retail is known, slumped as much as 29 percent in Johannesburg and said CEO Ben la Grange resigned. He’s also the chief financial officer of Steinhoff International.

“The trust between Wiese and Jooste is broken, that is why Jooste is out,” Syd Vianello, an independent retail analyst in Johannesburg, said by phone. “Wiese has got a huge amount of money at stake and it’s in his best interest to ensure trust in the company is restored.”

The retailer said Monday it wasn’t able to release audited full-year financial results on Wednesday due to matters related to a criminal and tax investigation in Germany. That probe dates back to 2015, and the company said in August that “no evidence exists” that the company broke the country’s commercial laws. It also said a report in Manager-Magazin that Jooste is among employees being investigated by German prosecutors contained information that was “wrong or misleading.”

UK stock market hits record high despite first interest rate hike in 10 years

The index of blue chip shares finished the trading session up 0.07 per cent at 7,560.35, beating the previous record close of 7,556.24 set on 12 October.

The FTSE 100 closed at a fresh record high on Friday, despite the Bank of England’s decision earlier this week to raise interest rates for the first time in over a decade.

The UK index of blue chip shares finished the trading session up 0.07 per cent at 7,560.35, beating the previous record close of 7,556.24 set on 12 October.

The FTSE 100 has increased by around 20 per cent since the June 2016 Brexit referendum, although it has been supported by a slump in the pound in the wake of the vote.

Since many of the firms in the index are multinationals with revenues in foreign currencies, a weaker sterling tends to support profits and valuations.

Sterling finished the day up 0.57 per cent against the euro at €1.1262 and up 0.15 per cent against the dollar at $1.3070.

Since the referendum sterling remains 13.8 per cent down against the greenback.

“Cash savers might still be waiting for the latest interest rate rise to feed through into their bank accounts, but stock market investors continue to reap the rewards of loose monetary policy and an improving global economy,” said Laith Khalaf of Hargreaves Lansdown.

“The global economy is doing pretty well at the moment, and with interest rates still staying low, that bodes well for the prospects for the stock market.”

On Thursday the Bank of England lifted its base rate from 0.25 per cent to 0.5 per cent, the first increase in the general cost of borrowing since July 2007, and the Bank’s forecast suggested at least two more hikes would be needed over the next three years to bring inflation back down to 2 per cent.

However, the decision prompted a 1.7 per cent drop for sterling against the dollar on Thursday, suggesting some scepticism among financial traders about whether such a degree of monetary tightening will be feasible as the UK heads towards Brexit in March 2019.

Stock Market News PHOTO

Fear of higher rates is what’s really scaring the stock market

A bearish run-up in interest rates spooked the stock market Wednesday, and while a major shakeout may not yet be in the cards just now, analysts say it’s a sign of things to come as the world’s major central banks move to end easy policy.

The quick snap up in U.S. Treasury yields Wednesday came amid speculation that President Donald Trump would select the most hawkish candidate, Stanford University economist John Taylor, to chair the Fed. Yields, which move opposite price, went higher also because markets are awaiting the European Central Bank’s meeting Thursday. The ECB is expected to announce a 50 percent reduction in the 60 billion euros ($71 billion) of bonds it buys each month.

Then both the Bank of England and Federal Reserve meet next week. The BOE is expected to raise interest rates, but the Fed is expected to wait until December to raise the target range of the fed funds rate another quarter point.

“It’s not frightening at the moment, but the driving force here, rising interest rates because of inflation and tightening fears … and the leadership among commodity stocks, that may be more or less a good description of the rest of this bull market,” said James Paulsen, chief investment strategist at Leuthold Group.

Paulsen said higher rates could be healthy for stocks, at least initially. “This is a good example of the future. If it goes on too long and too fast then it’s going to be too severe. If it’s pretty measured, I think we can handle [rising rates] for a while.”

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to 2.47 percent Wednesday, after having breached the technically important 2.40 level just the day before. But by afternoon, yields settled back and the 10-year was at 2.44 percent.

Stocks traded sharply lower as yields touched their high point, with the Dow down 190 points Wednesday morning before erasing about half its losses.

“I think we’re going to have to get above 3 percent on the [10-year yield] and maybe inflation before we really start thinking of a bear market. In part because we have a much broader-based recovery,” said Paulsen. “We have more animal spirits and confidence in place to a certain degree.”

Paulsen said he does not see a big pullback just yet. “It will come, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be near year-end or next year. I also wonder how many buyers we’ll get coming in,” he said.

Analysts say gradually rising interest rates shouldn’t hurt the stock market, but a quick jump in rates or a central bank policy error could be problematic and that’s what worried stocks Wednesday morning.

“I wouldn’t be ringing any alarm bells at this point because we have not seen a change in the data that makes us think the Fed is falling behind the curve,” said Jim Caron, fixed income portfolio strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management.

“I don’t think it is a turning point. It’s early to say. I go back and just look at a chart of yields. … We’re kind of back where we started the year,” said Caron.

While bond strategists say the market may see higher yields this year, it is not at the point where they would shoot significantly higher and hurt stocks.

Mark Cabana, head of U.S. short rate strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said the sell-off in bonds has been in part due to seeming progress on tax reform, viewed as a positive for stocks. He said the selection of a new Fed chair who would support deregulation is also a factor, as are expectations that the ECB will announce a tapering back of its bond buying on Thursday.

“We think a turning point for the market would be if there was progress on tax reform and it seemed like it was really going to materialize. We think the rates market has been discounting that for some time and we think progress and a reversal in sentiment could cause upward pressure on rates,” Cabana said. “If we were to ultimately see a tax package get through, we think we could see rates push up substantially higher, from here 40 basis points or so. It really depends on what happens with DC.”

Cabana said that may be seen as a positive for stocks if it is viewed as something that would add to growth, so equities may shrug off the move higher in yields.

The selection of a new Fed chair is also important to the bond market, and could result in a shift in interest rate expectations. Fed Governor Jerome Powell is considered the front-runner, and he is seen as being very similar to Fed Chair Janet Yellen, though possibly more inclined to deregulate banks. Trump said he was still considering Yellen but her chances are viewed as slim.

“I don’t think the world is changing all that much. I think bond yields are catching up to economic fundamentals. Bond yields have been a lagging indicator basically because of the stock effects of QE,” Caron said.

He notes that Europe is still moving slowly and ECB President Mario Draghi is not likely to put a date on when the bank will end quantitative easing. He notes that the ECB’s policy rate is still negative.

“For yields to materially rise, we would have to believe there’s an inflation impulse that returns term premia back to the curve,” said Caron. “Otherwise this is just markets being markets. Growth is decent. Third-quarter GDP might be OK. It makes sense 10-year notes should be 2.40. That’s not exactly high. That’s where we started the year.”