* Asset firm shelves $132 mln in loans to three state firms
* A total of six state firms to be affected by loans freeze
* Rand falls more than 1 pct, Eskom bonds fall (Adds quotes, details)
By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 31 (Reuters) - South African fixed-income asset manager Futuregrowth has halted lending to six state-owned firms, including power utility Eskom and logistics firm Transnet, it said on Wednesday citing political uncertainty.
Futuregrowth, which manages client assets of around 170 billion rand ($12 billion), said it was concerned by “a power struggle” in government, triggering a drop in the rand currency.
An elite police unit is investigating Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan over a suspected surveillance unit set up when he ran the tax service while the Treasury has accused Eskom of blocking an inquiry into coal contracts between the utility and a firm owned by the Gupta family, which has denied holding undue political sway over President Jacob Zuma.
Eskom’s bonds fell on the news of the lending halt by Futuregrowth. The other firms affected by the lending freeze are the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the Land Bank of South Africa, the Industrial Development Corporation and South African National Roads Agency and rail.
The asset manager’s Chief Investment Officer Andrew Canter said the Cape Town-based firm would stop talks with three state-owned firms seeking more than 1.8 billion rand in loans.
“There were three or four loans in negotiation with three different entities and we have informed them that we’re pulling those back now, we won’t be making those loans,” Canter said.
“We just said we can’t defend ourselves to our clients three years from now why we made additional loans now. So we felt that the right thing to do was to suspend it,” he said.
Communications officials at the public enterprises ministry which oversees the state firms were not available to comment.
Canter said Futuregrowth was also concerned after the cabinet said it would form a new committee to oversee state-owned enterprises that would in turn be supervised by Zuma.
The presidency last week defended the new plan after analysts said it would limit the finance minister’s control over state firms.
“We’re principally worried about the state-owned enterprises that may fall under this new council because we’re not sure what that council is trying to accomplish,” Canter said.
Zuma’s team and the Treasury under Gordhan have disagreed about government spending, including loss-making state companies like South African Airways, analysts say.
“There’s uncertainty among investors and concerns generally about how state companies are spending their money,” said chief trader at Bidvest Bank Ion de Vleeschauwer.
$1 = 14.6762 rand Additional reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Ruth Pitchford