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The bottom line is that the top line stinks. That is the challenge facing SA’s biggest banks as they fight to contain costs that are accelerating faster than revenue. The reasons are pretty much the same: SA’s economy hasn’t expanded at more than 2% a year since 2013 and unemployment is at 27%. In addition, consumers are being battered by rising taxes, fuel prices and higher utility bills. Companies, meanwhile, are waiting to invest until they get clarity on land expropriation and state-owned companies so deeply mired in debt that they threaten the state’s finances. That is why many lenders are looking to the rest of Africa, but home is still where the money lies. “This is showing just how tough the South African environment has been, while their African operations are outperforming,” Sanlam Investment Management head of equity research Patrice Rassou said. “It’s a function of low top-line growth and rising costs.” The Big Four — Standard Bank, FirstRand, Absa and Nedbank — all repo...

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