South Africa so completely dominates the rankings of Africa's biggest companies that it is felt useful to consider Southern Africa's largest firms that lie outside the continent's economic superpower separately. There are several areas of notable success, including perennial favourite Botswana and more recently Malawi, where banks appears to be benefiting from the overall improvement in the country's fortunes. However, even here, the past year has not been kind to the value of the region's leading companies. This year's table has a very different flavour to the 2008 survey because the Harare stock exchange has been closed for the first months of this year. It reopened as we went to press with all the shares now priced in US dollars, underlining the financial chaos that has enveloped the country. As a result, there was no trade in Zimbabwean stocks at the end of January, which is the date on which we have drawn our market values. There were 17 Zimbabwean companies listed in our regional survey last year, but their absence means that their counterparts in Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Namibia have all been given more opportunity to shine.
The Batswana economy continues to go from strength to strength (despite the current recession that has seen demand for diamonds drop, forcing Debswana to suspend operations at Orapa for 2009), as decades of prudent financial management and diamond revenues feed through into other sections of the economy. As last year, the top three companies in Southern Africa are First National Bank of Botswana, Standard Chartered Bank Botswana and Barclays Bank of Botswana, although the order has changed a little with Standard Chartered now overtaking Barclays. The share prices of all three have fallen substantially but not as dramatically as in some other parts of the continent, indicating some resilience in both domestic and foreign investor confidence.
Publishing its financial results for the second half of 2008, First National Bank could even announce a 32% increase in pre-tax profits on the back of a 27% rise in lending. In a statement, the bank revealed: "Increased volumes as a result of improved service-delivery channels, technological improvements and business growth from expansion have resulted in non-interest revenue growing by 32%. Although the non-interest revenue was negatively impacted by the reduction in foreign currency availed to the market by Debswana as a result of world economic...