Economy Markets & Equities

Investment lessons from the Oroville Dam disaster

A very interesting story was unfolding in California, USA as I was writing this week’s article. Among the many interesting sights in the USA, you will find the Oroville Dam, which at a height of 235m, is officially the highest dam in the USA. In 2013, however, a crack in one of the dam’s main slipways was concerning enough to experts to warn against the possibility of a total dam collapse, which could potentially risk the lives of thousands of people.

Government officials saw the signs, but they were adamant that everything was under control. What a great shock it was when in February 2017 it was announced that the dam may collapse at any moment, forcing nearly 200 000 residents in surrounding areas to evacuate immediately. At this stage (15 February), everyone was still waiting with bated breath to see what will happen next, and this brings me to my message this week: don’t look for possible solutions to position yourself when the dam breaks, but rather learn a valuable lesson from this story.

In April 2016, after the Rand weakened to nearly R17/US$, I pointed out at least 3 cracks in the valuation of the rand and used these cracks to show why the rand was strongly undervalued at the time. Some of the points I made included that the rand’s fair value was calculated mainly on its purchasing power parity (PPP), the benefits that a possible recovery in the resources sector might hold for the rand and a few technical aspects as well.

Like the Oroville Dam, these cracks were clearly visible to all. In September 2016, after the rand strengthened to around R14/US$, I was asked to perform a follow-up analysis on these valuations and still these cracks showed us that the rand’s fair value remained between R11.50 and R12/US$. I also named three shares that could be considered by investors who wanted to benefit from a possible further strengthening in the rand at that stage (16 September 2016) and they were Capitec Bank, PSG Group and Tiger Brands.

Since then, the rand has strengthened to below R13/US$, and the abovementioned shares have grown by 18%, 28% and 11% respectively, compared to the FTSE/JSE All Share Index’s growth of 1% over the same period. The reason for their performance can be attributed to the fact that huge locally-based companies have restructured their earnings in such a way that less than 40% of the FTSE/JSE All Share Index is dependent on the rand. These three companies, however, still earn the largest component of their income in rand, which made them stand out as a possible solution for a cracked dam at the time.

Graph 1: How many times the Rand/US$ recovery resembled today’s levels (source: PSG Old Oak & Iress Pro)

Unfortunately, this is now history, which means that investors have to decide on the way forward and how to position their personal portfolios following recent happenings. I’m aware of the fact that there has already been a rally in both the rand and shares that are strongly linked to the rand, but the fact remains that the rand still seems to be priced fairly cheap, which means that if you are still invested in a strongly rand-hedged portfolio, you run the risk of underperforming if the countless analysts and economists are correct in their expectations of further strengthening of the rand.

When we take a look at all of the FTSE/JSE All Share Index shares’ price correlation to the rand over the last 10 years, we will see that local banks and retailers in particular, held a strong correlation with the strengthening of the rand.

When we take an even closer look at these shares, we will see that 3 shares stood out as shares with the highest correlation with the strengthening of the rand over the last 10 years. According to analysts and consensus forecasts (Bloomberg), these 3 shares will offer the most growth potential over the next 12 months and could offer a valuable addition to personal share portfolios, namely FirstRand, Remgro and Woolies.


The opinions expressed in this blog are the opinions of the writer and not necessarily those of PSG. These opinions do not constitute advice. Although the utmost care has been taken in the research and preparation of this blog, no responsibility can be taken for any actions taken based on the information contained in this blog. 

Schalk Louw
As Portfolio Manager at PSG Wealth Old Oak and with over 20 years’ experience in the investment industry, Schalk has consistently delivered solid returns to his clients and has certainly become one of South Africa’s most well-known strategists. He started his career in 1994 at the stockbroking company, Huysamer Stals (later ABN Amro). He joined SMK Securities in 1997, (later became BoE Personal Stockbrokers) and was later appointed as director and branch manager. In 2001 he co-founded Contego Asset Management and managed the company as CEO up to March 2014, after which he joined PSG Wealth Old Oak. Schalk has also become a regular household name with investors, with his reports being published in many of the national press. He completed his MBA in 2008.

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