Although the value of many of the biggest East African companies has fallen over the past year, the region has largely escaped the doom and gloom apparent on stock indices elsewhere in Africa. All of the region’s major economies are experiencing steady or strong economic growth and many companies have performed well, partly because of the impetus provided by economic integration within the East African Community (EAC).
The relatively strong performance of East African firms is underlined by the fact that 21 companies from the region figure in our Top 250 Companies, up from just 15 in last year’s survey. The region remains underrepresented in terms of its share of the continent’s population but the trend is certainly in the right direction.
Mauritius Commercial Bank takes top spot this year with market capitalisation of $1.6bn, a slight rise on last year. In the process, it leapfrogs East African Breweries, which remains in second position and also last year’s top dog, Safaricom, which has seen a huge fall in value from $2.3bn to $1.3bn. State Bank of Mauritius remains in fourth position, again with a slight increase in value to $1.1bn but the rest of the top 10 remain in Kenyan hands.
The two big Mauritian banks announced increased profits in February. State Bank of Mauritius revealed a 17% increase in pre-tax profits for the second half of 2011 to Mauritian rupees 1.61bn ($53m), while net fee and commission revenue increased from $12.8m in six months to December 2010 to $19.4m for the same period last year.
However, a spokesperson for State Bank of Mauritius warned that economic uncertainty in Europe was having a big impact on the Mauritian economy: “Should the situation in the Eurozone worsen even more, there is a real danger of further deterioration in economic activity and the performance of productive sectors.” Despite the Eurozone crisis, the Mauritian economy appears to be holding up. The third biggest Mauritian company, New Mauritius Hotels, announced a 6.1% increase in revenues for the second half of 2011 at $84.7m.
The Kenyan economy
Five of the eight Kenyan firms in the regional top 10 are banks. This may come as no shock given that the same number featured last year, but it is a slight surprise given the falls in bank stock values over the period covered by our 2011 and 2012 surveys.
Yet while falling international confidence in banks has captured most of the headlines, other sectors in East Africa have been badly affected by the economic crisis, with the result that the region’s banks have managed to maintain their relative positions. They have also pursued cross-border expansion, enabling them to continue growing over the long term, although it remains to be seen whether greater competition will depress both share values and profits.
While the Kenyan economy is not growing as quickly as other economies in mainland East Africa, it is now enjoying growth substantially in excess of population growth.
Forecasts made by British-American Asset Managers, a Kenyan investment management company, are typical, with the firm predicting that growth will increase from 4.6% in 2011 to 5.3% for 2012. Managing director Edwin Dande said: “Prospects of rainfall, falling inflation risks and lower energy prices are likely to improve the 2012 growth prospects while the recent stability of the Kenyan shilling has tempered inflationary expectations.” However, he added that local stock markets would continue to experience volatility during the course of this year. Continued economic growth in Kenya may depend on political stability.
Mauritius too is currently experiencing relatively modest growth by East African standards but it is starting from a much higher per capita base than its mainland competitors. After decades of growth averaging 4.5-6%, it is a middle-income economy with a diverse base of agricultural, financial, tourist and industrial companies.
Tourism revenues increased from MR39.45bn ($1.3bn) in 2010 to $1.4bn in 2011 but continued instability in the key European market means that 2012 may be a disappointing year for the sector. At the end of February, the government cut its forecast for visitor numbers for this year from 1,010,000 to 980,000, although this would still mark a 1.6% rise on the number of tourists visiting the Indian Ocean island nation in 2011.
It is hoped that rising visitor numbers from Asia will compensate for any drop off from Europe. Indeed, the government of Mauritius is basing its economic future on its geographical location, as a bridge between Asia and Africa. Once regarded as an isolated outpost, Mauritius is now making the most of its position in an ever more closely integrated global economy.
Record year for Tanzania
Sustained strong growth in Tanzania has finally fed through into company values, as the number of Tanzanian firms in our East African Top 25 has now doubled from three to six in just one year. This is the best representation ever for Tanzanian companies in our regional Top 25.
The listed companies are spread across a wide range of sectors, including banking, cement production and consumer goods, indicating that Tanzanian enterprises are performing more strongly in response to growing cross-border competition from the region’s biggest economy, Kenya.
Although the World Bank forecasts 6% annual growth for Tanzania this year, lower than the government’s 7.2% prediction, this would still represent strong growth according to almost any scale. As in most other countries in the region, uncertainty over rainfall and power supplies are the most likely brakes on the national economy.
Despite strong economic growth and the approaching oil boom, Uganda still secures just a single ranking in our table. Stanbic Bank of Uganda sits in 11th position with a market value of $494m, down from last year’s $586m but one position higher.
With a fairly narrow economic base, the country is unlikely to replicate Tanzania’s success in our table in the near future. It is to be hoped that the oil monies will filter down into the rest of the economy but this is by no means guaranteed.
Oil field development can be stepped up now that Tullow has completed the $2.9bn sale of 33.3% stakes in three blocks in the Lake Albert Basin to Total of France and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).