The 180th anniversary of First National Bank (FNB) revealed the financial partner of millions of South Africans to be in its strongest shape yet. Its performance has provided a tide in which all boats in the group could rise, allowing FirstRand (under new CEO Alan Pullinger) to deliver earnings and dividend growth of 8% to R4.70 and R2.75 respectively for the 12 months to June. FNB, under CEO Jacques Celliers, grew its normalised earnings 16% to R14.8bn and now accounts for 57% of the group’s earnings. Its return on equity for the year came to a spectacular 40%. Imagine that — for every R1 of equity FirstRand puts into that business, it gets 40c back within 12 months. What’s even more impressive is that FNB achieved this when, for half of the reporting period, SA was in recession. It almost defies logic. While Pullinger is a seasoned investment banker — he led Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) for a number of years — his first assignment as FirstRand chief was to understand the power of reta...

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