Johannesburg - South Africa's reputation among global investors will be at stake on Friday, when a court rules on a government appeal aimed at overturning or attaching weightier conditions to Walmart's R18bn acquisition of Massmart Holdings [JSE:MSM]
Although few investors believe the Competition Appeal Court will overturn the transaction, which was cleared with token conditions in June last year, a ruling against Walmart Stores could tarnish South Africa's image of being open to foreign investment.
South Africa's anti-trust regulator in May approved Walmart's bid for 51% of discounter Massmart Holdings with token conditions. That prompted the government and the main service workers' union Saccawu to launch separate appeals.
"Any ruling that could lead to a radical change in the transaction will not only affect Massmart's shares, I would expect the entire market to show some sort of a reaction," said Abri du Plessis, chief investment officer at Gryphon Asset Management.
"The deal implementation is already under way, it is going to be very difficult and costly to reverse certain parts of it if the government gets its way."
The ruling is expected at 10:00 on Friday.
The government is, at the minimum, seeking to increase the conditions on the deal. Currently, Walmart is required to not cut jobs for its first two years, honour existing labour contracts and set up a R100m fund to develop local suppliers.
The state's appeal centres on procedural issues during the anti-trust hearing in May. The government said it was not allowed access to critical Walmart documents.
The government also says the timetable of the hearing impeded the thorough cross-examination of witnesses.
Saccawu argues the current conditions do not adequately address concerns about job losses and competition.