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Top of the morning to you as we go charging into the last quarter of the year. It was but two short weeks ago that the year dawned, brand spanking new, all clean and shiny and full of promise. We are now approaching that stage where the year is looking a little tired – as though it could do with a good lie-down. We, as in South Africa, have certainly not helped matters. Given the rather turgid state of the world economy, one would have thought that strong leadership and a positive attitude towards investment would have been the order of the day. However, the collective “we” seem to have taken two large bore rifles and instead of shooting ourselves in the foot, we seem to have shot ourselves in both feet, repeatedly – and we continue to do so. It truly beggars belief as the net impact (has to be and) is going to be jobs lost, investments to be scaled back/ curtailed and a proportion of the currently employed who are making demands are going to become newly unemployed. One hopes that the newly unemployed will have insight to look at what they did and how the impact of their actions has resulted in the change in their employment status.

As I mentioned last month, Tygerberg Zoo is closing – it is a rather depressing shadow of its former self, however, as this is the last zoo in the Western Cape, for some this could be the last chance to see. Whilst SA is in a somewhat dire state, the European situation continues to lurch spasmodically from disaster to disaster. As an aside, I am told that Christmas decorations made their appearance in August in the UK (being a
desperate attempt to revive the flagging economy). One of the major retailers started and the rest (had to’) followed suit. The outcry led to the position being taken that it was supposed to be a promotion only and not the “full monty”, so to speak. However, I believe that they are now up. (Having said that, Christmas decorations went up in September, when I was last there…..)

With regards to the rather poor economic position all over the world, one of the roots of the problem is that the politician who grasps the nettle and inflicts it upon his/ her electorate, is guaranteed a short, sharp and fairly unpleasant term in office (read access to power/ money/ influence/ etc). Obama and Cameron, by way of example, inherited poisoned chalices. The public generally does not see the need for urgent remedial action – either here, or abroad on a national/ continental basis and any infringement/ reduction of the rights/ entitlements of the voting public incurs their wrath – ergo these multiple crises keep “right on trucking”.

I have enclosed two excerpts that I believe are of particular relevance to current global economics – which is tantamount to the fact that no matter how big or small the person/ entity is, one cannot spend more than one earns indefinitely without going bankrupt. Further thereto, it takes a while but eventually people will suddenly stop lending you money. Both excerpts are from highly respected authors who, when analyzing their comments, are merely re-affirming the bleeding obvious.

This excerpt by Rob Arnott, founder of Research Affiliates.

Rob looks into the future and walks us backward in time.

Quoting: “On another topic, one of my favorite games as an asset manager is to look past current travails and ask what “must” happen in the years ahead. Then we can turn attention to working backwards, identifying the intervening “path of least resistance.” Sometimes, this is way more powerful than looking at the near-term decision tree and working forwards.

“The EZ travails lend themselves elegantly to this treatment. What will happen in the months ahead’ No one really knows. What will happen in the years ahead’ Nations addicted to debt-financed consumption will have to balance their books. All of Europe (and the US and Japan) will be spending no more (or very little more) than their tax receipts, a few years hence. Why’ Because – as with any family – debt-financed consumption is ultimately unsustainable.

“Likewise, some years hence, entitlements will need to be on a pay-as-we-go basis, give or take a little wiggle room, in order to not crowd out all other forms of spending. Debt service will need to be part of the nations’ spending, crowding out other forms of spending; a ‘primary surplus’ will be irrelevant.

“When will this transition take place’ It’s impossible for the status quo to continue more than a few years, though Japan shows that debt-financed government spending can persist far longer than most observers might suppose. And it’s impossible for status quo to persist after the capital markets begin looking these few years ahead, which telescopes this transition into the coming handful of years. The more a nation relies on foreign investors to fund its spending, the faster this cliff arrives.
Excerpt ends.

Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff Excerpt from “This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly”

Economic theory tells us that it is precisely the fickle nature of confidence, including its dependence on the public’s expectation of future events, which makes it so difficult to predict the timing of debt crises. High debt levels lead, in many mathematical economics models, to “multiple equilibria” in which the debt level might be sustained – or might not be. Economists do not have a terribly good idea of what kinds of events shift confidence and of how to concretely assess confidence vulnerability. What one does see, again and again, in the history of financial crises is that when an accident is waiting to happen, it eventually does. When countries become too deeply indebted, they are headed for trouble. When debt-fueled asset price explosions seem too good to be true, they probably are. But the exact timing can be very difficult to guess, and a crisis that seems imminent can sometimes take years to ignite.”

Excerpt ends.

Don’t take it from me – take it from the really clever people who really know.

My position, as I’ve said indefinitely and ad nauseum, is that we (being the global collective) are in for at least another six to eight years of recovery/ stagnation/ volatility/ crises – until this debt burden has been dealt with.

As I mentioned last month, the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors is proud to inform South Africans, that for the third consecutive year South Africa has maintained the number 1 position in the World Economic Forum Survey for the strength of its auditing and reporting standards regarding company financial performance. Whilst I am delighted for the feather in the cap of South Africa, what it means is that we have the most exacting audit standards in the world (and you don’t get that without audit fees having to cover the cost of compliance/ attaining and maintaining those standards). In my view, more time and money could be better spent addressing the many other ills in South Africa – poverty,  education, sanitation, housing etc etc etc.

The ongoing national embarrassment that is the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) remains just that. Don’t hold your breath. I shudder to think of the hundreds of millions of Rands of investment/ opportunity and revenue receipts this mortally wounded beast has cost the South African economy.

As has been previously mentioned, SARS have added a truly vicious and malevolent beast to their arsenal known as an IT14SD. This is a reconciliation which requires reconciliation between the payroll numbers on the financial statements to the payroll reports (IRP5s and EMP501s) and a reconciliation of the VAT inputs and outputs (to cost of sales). This is an incredibly labour intensive reconciliation which easily takes 40 man hours. It is a VERY VERY expensive and time-consuming submission (and seeing as SARS developed this without informing the software providers, as of August 2012, there isn’t a software provider in South Africa that has set up their software to generate the inputs/ reports in the format required). I asked the question at the annual Southern Suburbs SAICA/ SARS meeting if we could not submit the document and rather invite SARS to audit. The considered reply was NO. It has to be submitted, irrespective of the time and cost (and of course God help you if a mistake is made). Of course, the fact that, for example, in a manufacturing environment, where (say) salaries are included in cost of sales, there is no way on God’s green earth that the financial statements will ever be able to reconcile to this, which leads to audits and more time and money wasted.

Further thereto, I must add the following extract from Peter Carruthers – 2012/9/27:

On top of that, it turns out that SARS has an exciting new way of getting your attention. SARS apparently (according to a person at Standard Bank) has a ‘lien’ on any funds in any bank account, and when SARS ‘thinks’ money is owed to it they can just take it. This applies to amounts under dispute as well, even if SARS staffers have already agreed that they have made a mistake. Lets look at what this means to you if SARS thinks you owe money to the state. I emphasize ‘thinks’ because their calcs are often a little less precise than one might like.

Imagine what happens to all the weekend debit orders that you knew at breakfast on Friday were catered for. Only to find out on Monday morning that all twelve debit orders bounced. (Because SARS took the funds out Friday afternoon without any warning.) Your first notice would be a call from the bank at lunch on Monday, along with their very high costs for the bounces.

And, of course, the damage to your financial credibility. (To say nothing of the crowd at Diners (one bounce and your card is revoked), Telkom (phone cut off), MWEB (there goes the Internet connection), your landlord (who has that surety against your home), and your insurances.)

Lets take it a step further. Imagine that you had no money in his business bank account. But, you had an overdraft facility of, say, R100,000. The SARS vacuum would have sucked up the available cash – taking the firm into overdraft.

And then, because you were relying on that overdraft covering the debit orders, all your debit orders bounce. And because your debit orders bounce, the bank pulls your overdraft. (Now you are R200K behind the month end bills which include salaries (and a bunch of fights with the CCMA), VAT (and the penalties for late payment), credit card payments, and so forth.)

And since you, like 99.9% of us have your overdraft backed by his house, the bank starts to proceed against you by calling in their surety.

The knock-on of such a huge unexpected drain, especially in this fragile economy, will close most of us. Goodbye.

All because you thought that the amount under dispute was awaiting resolution, as it has been for the past four years because SARS usually works at the speed of treacle. In this case SARS have agreed that their initial calculation of R150K Capital Gains Tax is way off, but someone with his hand on the cherry-picker is not privy to that news.

I don’t know about you, but I think that the folk working at SARS truly have no idea what they are doing when it comes to small business.

Which reminds me, if you enter into a dispute with SARS about any outstanding monies, you MUST also ask them to delay payment of the funds they think are due. (This does not automatically happen as normal people might expect.) Without that second request, you’re expected to pay first and argue later. Quite so.

This is a heads up. If you are in a dispute with SARS, note that they are punching below the belt. And take appropriate action to protect your business.

Excerpt ends/

As another matter for your attention, the unemployment insurance funds earnings limit has increased from R149 736 to R178 464 per annum (from R12,478 to R14,872 per month). In a display of incompetence and sheer idiocy that is absolutely breathtaking, it was announced by the Department of Labour that this increase would affect neither employers nor employees. Eventually someone realised that if the “price
is put up”, someone has to pay for the increase. What this means is that employers will pay an extra R23.94 per month per employee for the privilege of employing staff and staff will have an extra R23.94 per month deducted for the privilege of being administered by the complete morons that fester in the Department of Labour. It truly beggars belief that someone that stupid and disconnected from reality can be appointed to a position of power and authority.

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