South Africa’s Land Bank: Land Expropriation Could Trigger Default

South Africa’s state-owned Land Bank said on Monday a plan to allow the state to seize land without compensation could trigger defaults that could cost the government 41 billion rand ($2.8 billion) if the bank’s rights as a creditor are not protected.

Land Bank is a specialist bank providing financial services to the commercial farming sector and other agricultural businesses.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Aug. 1 that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is forging ahead with plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation, as whites still own most of South Africa’s land more than two decades after the end of apartheid.

Land Bank Chairman Arthur Moloto said in the company’s 2018 annual report that the bank has approximately 9 billion rand of debt, which includes a standard market clause on “expropriation” as an event of default.

Moloto said if expropriation without compensation were to materialize without protection of the bank’s rights as a creditor, it would be required to repay 9 billion rand immediately.

“A cross default clause would be triggered should we fail to pay when these debts fall due because of inadequate liquidity or lack of alternative sources of funding,” Moloto said.

“This would make our entire 41 billion rand funding portfolio due and payable immediately, which we would not be able to settle. Consequently, government intervention would be required to settle our lenders.”

Moloto said the bank was generally funded by the local debt and capital markets, and more recently international multilateral institutions such as the African Development Bank and World Bank.

“A poorly executed expropriation without compensation could result in the main sources of funding drying up as investors might not be willing to continue funding Land Bank in particular, or agriculture in general,” he said.

Some investors are concerned that the ANC’s reforms will result in white farmers being stripped of land to the detriment of the economy, as happened in Zimbabwe, although Ramaphosa has repeatedly said any changes will not compromise food security or economic growth.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a “willing-seller, willing-buyer” model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks. Progress has been slow.

($1 = 14.6363 rand)

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Born Out of the Financial Crisis, Bull Market Nears Record

The bull market in U.S. stocks is about to become the longest in history.


If stocks don’t drop significantly by the close of trading Wednesday, the bull market that began in March 2009 will have lasted nine years, five months and 13 days, a record that few would have predicted when the market struggled to find its footing after a 50 percent plunge during the financial crisis.


The long rally has added trillions of dollars to household wealth, helping the economy, and stands as a testament to the ability of large U.S. companies to squeeze out profits in tough times and confidence among investors as they shrugged off repeated crises and kept buying.


“There was no manic trading, there was no panic buying or selling,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Cresset Wealth Advisors. “It’s been pretty steady.”


The question now is when the rally will end. The Federal Reserve is undoing many of the stimulative measures that supported the market, including keeping interest rates near zero. There are also mounting threats to global trade that have unsettled investors.


For such an enduring bull market, it shares little of the hallmarks of prior rallies.


Unlike earlier rallies, individual investors have largely sat out after getting burned by two crashes in less than a decade. Trading has been lackluster, with few shares exchanging hands each day. Private companies have shown little enthusiasm, too, with fewer selling stock in initial public offerings than in previous bull runs.


Yet this bull market has been remarkably resilient. After several blows that might have killed off a less robust rally — fears of a eurozone collapse, plunging oil prices, a U.S. credit downgrade, President Donald Trump’s trade fights — investors soon returned to buying, avoiding a 20 percent drop in stocks that by common definition marks the end of bull markets.


“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the length and strength of this bull market,” said David Lebovitz, a global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management.

One of the market’s biggest winners in recent years, Facebook, wasn’t even publicly traded when the bull market began. Facebook’s huge run-up of more than 350 percent since going public in 2012, Apple’s steady march to $1 trillion in value, and huge gains by other tech companies like Netflix have helped push the broader market higher.


Since the rally officially began on March 9, 2009, the Standard and Poor’s 500 has risen 321 percent. In the 1990s bull market, the current record holder for the longest, stocks rose 417 percent.


From the start, the Federal Reserve was a big force pushing markets higher. It slashed short-term borrowing rates to zero, then began buying trillions of dollars of bonds to push longer-term rates down, too. Investors frustrated with tiny interest payments on bonds felt they had no alternative but to pile into stocks.


Companies moved fast to adapt to the post-financial-crisis world of sluggish U.S. growth.


They slashed costs and kept wage growth low, squeezing profits out of barely growing sales. They bought back huge amounts of their own stock and expanded their sales overseas, particularly to China’s booming economy. Profit margins reached record levels, as wages sunk to record lows as measured against the size of economy.


“What people missed was how quickly U.S. corporations were restructuring and right-sizing themselves to regain profitability,” said money manager James Abate, who publicly urged investors to start buying stocks in early 2009 when most were dumping them. “It was really a catalyst for turning things around.”


China’s surging growth helped the market, too. Its boom drove up the price of oil and other commodities, helping to lift stocks of U.S. natural resource companies — for a while at least.


Then came a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating in August 2011, which caused stocks to swoon, and 2013 brought another fall as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke talked of easing off stimulus policies. In the second half 2014, oil plunged 50 percent, which rattled investors again.


Profits started falling the next year, but investors kept their nerve and didn’t sell and waited for profits to rise again. In 2016, stocks gained 10 percent then jumped 19 percent the next year. Since the start of 2018, they have risen 6.6 percent, boosted by surging profits following the massive cut in corporate tax rates earlier this year.


Several dangers threaten the rally.


The Fed has hiked its benchmark lending rate twice since January, and is expected raise it twice more by the end of the year.


Stocks could suffer as higher interest on bonds convinces investors to start shifting money into this safer alternative. Higher rates also increase costs for business and make expanding operations more difficult.

More worrisome, rising rates can trigger recessions, which often kill bull markets. Three of the past five recessions were preceded by rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.


With stocks richly priced, there isn’t much room for things to go wrong.


The prices investors are paying per share for companies are 2.2 times revenue per share, near historic peaks. And prices compared to long-term earnings are much higher than in 2007 before the market crashed.


For all its longevity and gains, the final verdict on the bull market won’t be known until it ends.


The financial crisis of 2008 that ended the last bull market laid bare just how much debt and risk-taking had fueled gains in the previous seven years. The dot-com bust that ended the 90s rally showed how reckless investors had been.


This time, many of the unanswered questions concern the Fed’s monetary stimulus.


How much did it help boost stocks, and thus the broader economy? Will the gains it helped manufacture prove ephemeral? What are the long-term costs of its unprecedented economic rescue effort as it faces the tricky task of unwinding its stimulus program?


Another question is the wisdom of so many buybacks. Companies have spent trillions in recent years repurchasing their own stock, which has helped lift prices in the short term but does nothing to expand operations, train workers and generally improve their business. Many of the purchases were made with borrowed money, adding to already sizable debts.


Abate, the money manager who urged people to buy early in 2009, says stock prices are too high given the threat to profits from higher borrowing costs as rates climb, higher input costs from Trump’s tariffs and, possibly, bigger raises for workers in the future.


“Profits are peaking and valuations are extreme,” said Abate, chief investment officer of Centre Asset Management.


His prediction is that stocks will plunge by the end of the year and a bear market will begin.


Others are more optimistic.


JPMorgan’s Lebovitz takes comfort in the fact investors have been skeptical of the rally all along, which he says has allowed none of the excesses of prior bull markets to build up.


“This is a bull market that people love to hate,” he said. “Blind exuberance hasn’t been a characteristic.”


Asked how much longer the rally will last, he said: “At least another year, but two might be a bit of stretch.”

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Paul Allen’s Space Firm Details Plans for Rockets, Cargo Vehicle

The space company of billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen on Monday unveiled details of medium-lift rockets and a reusable space cargo plane it is developing, injecting more competition into the lucrative launch services market.

With its rockets, Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems is trying to cash in on higher demand in the coming years for vessels that can put satellites into orbit. But his vehicles will have to compete domestically with other space entrepreneurs and industry stalwarts such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance — a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Seattle-based Stratolaunch, founded by Allen in 2011, said in a news release its launch vehicles will make satellite deployment “as easy as booking an airline flight,” though the first rocket launch is not slated until 2020 at the earliest and the massive airplane it is building to deploy the rockets is  still in pre-flight testing.

Rather than blasting off from a launch pad, Stratolaunch’s rockets will drop at high altitude from underneath the company’s six-engine, twin-fuselage airplane — the largest ever built by wingspan.

That launch method is similar to the one being developed by billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Stratolaunch’s plane is designed to carry a rocket and payload with a combined weight of up to 550,000 pounds (250,000 kg), on par with what a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket can launch from the ground.

Timing is everything

Around 800 small satellites are expected to launch annually beginning around 2020, more than double the annual average over the past decade, according to Teal Group space analyst Marco Caceres.

Stratolaunch announced plans for the plane years ago with the goal of flying Northrop Grumman Corp’s small-payload Pegasus rocket in 2020, and some in the aerospace industry expected Stratolaunch to eventually make its own rockets after partnerships with other manufacturers fell through.

Stratolaunch said its new medium-lift rocket with a capacity of about 3,400 kg (7,500 pounds) would fly as early as 2022. It said it was in the early stages of developing a variant with a payload capacity of 6,000 kg. It made no mention of launch customers and declined to say how much it would cost to develop its space vehicles.

Stratolaunch acknowledged it was designing a reusable space plane to carry cargo to and from Earth and a follow-on variant could carry people.

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Trump: It Is ‘Dangerous’ for Twitter, Facebook to Ban Accounts

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that it is “very dangerous” for social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to silence voices on their services.

Trump’s comments in an interview with Reuters come as the social media industry faces mounting scrutiny from Congress to police foreign propaganda.

Trump has made his Twitter account — with more than 53 million followers — an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics.

Trump previously criticized the social media industry on Aug. 18, claiming without evidence in a series of tweets that unnamed companies were “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.” In the same post, Trump said “too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad.”

Those tweets followed actions taken by Apple Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube and Facebook to remove some content posted by Infowars, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones’ own Twitter account was temporarily suspended on Aug. 15.

“I won’t mention names but when they take certain people off of Twitter or Facebook and they’re making that decision, that is really a dangerous thing because that could be you tomorrow,” Trump said.

Trump appeared on a show produced by Infowars, hosted by Jones, in December 2015 while campaigning for the White House. In removing Jones’ content, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook each pointed to specific user agreement violations. For example, Facebook removed several pages associated with Infowars after determining they violated policies concerning hate speech and bullying.

Twitter and Facebook declined to comment on Trump’s statement. Apple and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In July, during a House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing, executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter testified they did not remove content based on political reasons.

“Our purpose is to serve the conversation, not to make value judgments on personal beliefs,” Nick Pickles, Twitter’s senior strategist, said at the time.

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Президента Франції просять врятувати Сенцова – відео

Представники української діаспори у Франції записали відеозвернення до президента країни Емманюеля Макрона, в якому просять сприяти звільненню українського режисера Олега Сенцова, ув’язненого в Росії.

Відеозапис звернення до французького президента опублікував на каналі в Youtube Володимир Шпинов.

У зверненні автори називають Сенцова «людиною гідності» і відзначають, що російський уряд «демонстративно й брутально карає дисидентів». Від президента Франції просять втрутитися в питання «звільнення Олега Сенцова – невинної людини, якій загрожує смерть».

Читайте також: Чи всіх зусиль ми доклали, щоб розповісти історію Олега Сенцова?

«Я поділяю принципи й девіз Франції: «Свобода, рівність і братерство!». Я звертаюся до Вас через Олега Сенцова. Це режисер, письменник і постановник, який ціною свого життя домагається звільнення 70 інших українських політв’язнів, яких зараз утримують у Росії за вигаданими причинами. Їхня єдина провина – це те, що вони не прийняли окупацію своєї Батьківщини, не прийняли окупацію Криму Росією», – заявила учасниця проекту Віталія Рікар.

Представники української діаспори нагадали Емманюелю Макрону, що Олег Сенцов голодує вже 99 днів.

«Необхідно діяти швидко! Оскільки його стан здоров’я погіршується щодня. Ми дуже сподіваємося, що Ваша особиста підтримка дозволить врятувати життя Олега Сенцова», – йдеться у зверненні.

Публічної реакції президента Франції на звернення поки що немає.

14 серпня Олег Сенцов розповів російській правозахисниці Зої Свєтовій, яка їздила до нього в колонію, що його стан «передкритичний». Сестра Сенцова Наталія Каплан повідомила, що в листі він їй написав, що втрачає надію і не вірить у звільнення.

Засуджений в Росії український режисер Олег Сенцов 14 травня оголосив безстрокове голодування з вимогою звільнити всіх українських політв’язнів, які перебувають у російських в’язницях.

В Україні і світі відбувають акції на його підтримку з вимогою до Росії звільнити режисера і всіх українців, утримуваних із політичних мотивів.


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Правозахисні організації засудили заборону українській активістці в’їжджати до Шенгену

Правозахисні організації засудили рішення польського уряду включити керівницю Фундації «Відкритий діалог», українку Людмилу Козловську до списку Schengen Information System, унаслідок чого їй заборонили в’їзд до всіх країн Шенгенської зони. Звернення за підписом 11 правозахисних організацій оприлюднила Українська Гельсінська спілка з прав людини.

Вони зазначають, що Козловська жила в Польщі понад 10 років.

«Ми вважаємо внесення керівниці Фундації «Відкритий діалог» Людмили Козловської до Schengen Information System (SIS) і позбавлення її права перебувати на території країн Шенгенської зони небезпечним прецедентом, який започатковує новий вид переслідування громадських активістів у країнах ЄС через їх публічну незгоду із державною політикою окремих країн, та вимагаємо виключити громадянку України Людмилу Козловську із списку», – заявили правозахисники.

Вони стверджують, що після публічних закликів керівництва «Відкритого діалогу» до участі в масових протестах проти судової реформи на організацію почали тиснути. Зокрема, «у польській пресі з’явилася ніяк не підтверджена інформація про нібито зв’язки фундації із російськими спецслужбами».

Також, за даними правозахисників, Міністерство закордонних справ Польщі подало позов із вимогою примусової зміни керівництва організації, який був двічі відхилений польськими судами. Крім того, були спроби позбавити організацію акредитації при Європарламенті.

В уряді Польщі зазначили, що керівник Агентства внутрішньої безпеки зробив «негативний висновок» на прохання Козловської надати дозвіл на довгострокове проживання в країні. Представник спецслужби в коментарі телеканалу TVP Info пояснив, що причиною рішення стали «серйозні сумніви» щодо фінансування очолюваного нею «Відкритого діалогу». Він заявив, що деталі «не можуть бути повідомлені громадськості».

У «Відкритому діалозі» інформують, що Козловську депортували з території Європейського союзу до столиці України Києва 14 серпня. Сама активістка розповіла, що їй заборонили в’їзд в Шенгенську зону «без будь-яких пояснень і без дозволу на подачу офіційного запиту». Вони вважають ситуацію з Козловською «політичною акцією польської влади, що покликана зупинити діяльність організації в країні і за кордоном».

В організації заявляють, що їхніми цілями є захист прав людини, демократії та верховенства права на пострадянському просторі.

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Меркель розповіла Порошенкові про результати переговорів із Путіним – АП

Порошенко закликав активізувати зусилля для звільнення українських заручників, яких незаконно утримують на території Росії й окупованих нею територіях

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