Report: S. Africa’s Top Stocks See ‘Gravity-Defying’ Growth

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Strikes, slow growth, credit downgrades and poor consumer demand didn’t hurt the record highs seen in top-performing South African stocks since the 2008 economic downturn, according to a Reuters report on IndependentOnline.

Since January 2012, Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed shares of SABMiller, known for Castle Lager and Peroni beer, have risen 80 percent. Richemont, Swiss maker of Cartier watches and Mont Blanc pens founded and still run by South Africa’s Rupert family, has seen its South African shares surge 137 percent. Naspers, a sprawling media group with holdings in e-commerce companies in emerging markets, including a stake in Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings, grew 166 percent.

Johannesburg’s benchmark Top-40 index has risen nearly 40 percent since the start of 2012, outperforming many major developed and emerging markets, including India (28 percent), Mexico (11 percent), the U.S. (35 percent), although some of those returns have been eroded by the weakening rand currency, the report said.

Just three stocks – SABMiller, Richemont, and Naspers – account for 25 percent of South Africa’s stock performance, according to recent research from South Africa’s Cannon Asset Managers.

Investors who owned all the other shares in Johannesburg, but not those three, saw increases of less than 15 percent, a performance more in line with South Africa’s fundamentals, said Cannon CEO Geoff Blount. “There is no doubt that the stocks that did well over this period are extremely high-quality firms, but – and here’s the issue – many are very expensive, high-quality firms,” he said.

In Naspers’ case, “very expensive” may be an understatement.

The stock, which this month eclipsed telecom MTN Group as South Africa’s largest company by market value and is now worth $40 billion, is trading at 29 times forward earnings, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Its share price is 36 percent above its intrinsic value, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine, which considers a company’s future growth prospects.

Despite all the hype about Africa rising and South African equities as a gateway to sub-Saharan growth, none of the three stocks are pure Africa plays, the report said.

Although it has significant pay TV and print operations, Naspers is seen as a “proxy for Tencent” as Jefferies analyst David Reynolds said in a research report in August.

Tencent, a $98 billion company known for its wildly popular social messaging application WeChat and its lucrative online games, contributed about 40 percent of Naspers’ revenue in the last financial year.

Richemont, which has its primary listing in Switzerland after being spun off from the predecessor of South Africa’s Remgro Ltd. in 1988, is also increasingly reliant on Asia sales, given the heavy demand for luxury items from China’s wealthy.

For SABMiller, Africa outside South Africa is an increasingly important market, although it is still a smaller revenue contributor than Latin America, Europe and North America.

The three companies show how much investors will continue to pay – or, arguably, overpay – for high-quality businesses with good growth prospects.

The challenge for South African investors is now to find the next set of companies that can deliver such stunning returns.