A lot of people are worryingly asking me about the ANC governments idea for prescribed assets. In other words a law requiring asset managers to invest in a certain way, expected that this would require buying of SOE debt or maybe even equity, albeit I think equity is almost certainly not on the table, just debt and frankly Eskom debt.
Now first off, personally I am in two minds about prescribed assets. The capitalist in me thinks they are a terrible idea. Investor should be able to invest where they want, even in 6% fee offshore funds if that rocks their returns. But we live in a developmental state with extreme inequality and as such I certainly think that prescribed assets do have a place in our economy, and we already have them in the form of reg 28 and nobody died from that. So I think the issue is balance and reg 28 strikes the right line of balance.
Let's quickly touch on regulation 28 of the Pension Fund Act. Before 1994 the NP government had prescribed assets and when the ANC came to power they scrapped that, but did put in place limits on how pension fund managers had to invest in terms of assets classes and offshore vs. local.
So we have prescribed assets and yes people grumble about the reg 28 limits, but in no way has it been the end of the world.
Any change too prescribed assets would likely happen within the reg 28 environment but when asked in parliament last week President Ramaphosa was very vague on exactly what the government means. But I have some thoughts.
Magda Wierzycka, CEO of Sygnia (JSE code: SYG) had an excellent idea she put forward on Bruce Whitfields show. The PIC issues a zero coupon R200billion ten year bond to Eskom. This removes half their interest payments and gives them ten years to fix their balance sheet. If they succeed, boom. If not then we are right were we are now. Nothing ventured nothign gained.
The risk of course is to the PIC returns, but as a defined benefit pension fund tax payers would be on the hook for any shortfalls to the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), and right now tax payers are anyway on the hook for Eskom. Further the GEPF is currently funded at 108%, so not anywhere close to falling over.
So maybe prescribed assets is actually just for Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) assets? And I like this idea very much, gives Eskom wiggle room and a decade while not killing our treasury in the mean time. Now many of you are spitting into your coffee at the thought of this. But let's be realistic. Eskom is way over debted and sure it is the result of state capture. But we can't roll back the clock, all we can do now s try and fix it.
Another fun fact is that SOE debt has not been defaulted on, and this is unlikely to change. So actually the great yields offered by, for example, Eskom bonds, is actually a great return. As long as they don't default and frankly they are either directly or implicitly under written by government so default is not going to happen.
As evidence of this is Future Growth invests into SOE debt and has great returns to boot.
But at he end of the day - we await full details from government which will probably arrive with a plan to save Eskom as they're the reason we're even talking about this and Minister Gordhan has promised details in early September.
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