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SA Corporate Well-being

SA Corporate Well-being

With so much focus on party politics, strike demands and the protest about poor service delivery, or otherwise about disappointing economic performance, and the hardship this implies for many households, high performance niches tend to shift into the background, quietly beavering away without getting much airtime.

One such feature are our leading companies and many of the people working there. SA corporate wellbeing mostly remains high, to very high, depending on the sector. And many of the employed people there are doing well, too, just as they do in the public sector, only different. Better even?

It is an understated feature that gets too easily forgotten or ignored. The economy is doing poorly, though not in recession, and therefore supposedly everyone is doing poorly. Not true, not close.

The JSE stock market is flirting with new highs. But for too many that is a reason to call for a break to the downside (as the foundations are supposedly not good) or it is all in tandem with global forces and therefore not reflective of own doing.

Yet consider actual conditions.

Sales volume growth may be disappointingly slow domestically, or even declining (cars), yet costs are well managed, new technological innovations create new markets and/or cost savings, finances appear mostly healthy, there are no excessive risk exposures externally, yet strong expansion in foreign markets boost the bottom line.

Four things stand out. Cost control. Balance sheet health. Risk containment. Expansion of profitable foreign operations.

For every corporate which announces a withdrawal from a foreign operation, or worse, having incurred a bloody nose and needing to do a write off, there are many more reporting satisfactory additions to the bottom line.

Going global has paid rich dividends, if with inevitable school fees. But only the odd disaster. Many more successes, often understated and absorbed in the overall reporting.

One thing holding back Indian corporates at present is there overindebtedness and the need to deleverage. Their expansion urges have been far too strongly reliant on debt. In other countries, they have overindulged in foreign borrowing with its risk implications.

Russian corporates are in the twang of sanctions and foreign standoff.

In contrast, SA corporates are borrowing healthily from banks domestically, but do not seem strained. No capacity overcommitment, no overindulgent merger mania (unlike in the US now), no inventory overhangs. Bad debt has cyclically risen in an underperforming, straining economy but not to typically intimidating shock proportions. It is all digestible.

Earnings growth is generally good to very good, typically double digit  and often comfortably ahead of nominal GDP growth of 8-9%.

Strain? Yes, there is strain in places, whether sales volumes declining or labour strikes spiking operations. Yet this remains the exception. The majority are doing well. As do most of their staff, also at bonus time, with senior management mostly not complaining in a strongly rising stock market.

The ruddy health observable here, and in the car park, can too easily be overlooked. We shouldn't. Our corporates  remain healthy going concerns even in stagnating times.