LISTINGS on the JSE - a loose proxy for the state of the economy - came in strongly positive this year registering a net gain of R20bn, suggesting corporate activity is likely to rebound in the new year.

South African corporate activity can be a "lumpy market - a few big deals can distort general trends. This year was a good example of this, since the total value of listings actually fell to R54bn from R96bn.

However, this figure is grossly distorted by the listing of a single very large company - Vodacom - last year.

By contrast, this year was a much more even  year, with some very large delistings balanced by some very large listings, with an overall net gain in value.

Against listings worth R54bn, delistings came in at R35bn, heavily dominated by Dimension Data's R22bn delisting following the company's purchase by Japanese telecoms company NTT. The second-largest delisting was Mutual and Federal's, a deal technically completed last year.

Noteworthy listings were Life Healthcare, which relisted after a leveraged buyout, Capital and Counties, which split out from Liberty International, and Royal Bafokeng Platinum.

Former dairy co-operative Clover, now a general food and beverage company, and Mvelaserve were also both popular listings.

Despite the net gain in value this year, there was , once again, a net reduction in the number of companies listed - 16 delistings against 12 listings across all boards. As bad as this might seem, it does constitute a rebound from last year when there were 10 listings and 25 delistings.

Once again, the AltX market was hit hard, with only one listing, and three delistings. Additionally, seven companies transferred from AltX to the main board on the JSE.

This is in sharp contrast to the bumper years for the fledgling market, which peaked in 2007.

Noah Greenhill, head of marketing and business development at the JSE, said the listings trend this year was " appropriate given current market conditions".

"As has been the goal for some  time now, we are looking to attract quality listings - companies that list for the right reasons and which find strategic value in listing their businesses," he said.

Critically, the average price- earnings ratio of companies on the exchange has improved, which tends to encourage listings.

In addition, after some hiatus, the private equity industry will be more likely to use listings as an exit mechanism, now that higher valuations are available.

The year did not start well from a corporate activity point of view when Life Healthcare, a new listing, was forced to pare back its opening price.

Yet, as economic confidence increased through the year, companies - both locally and internationally - were able to list at improved levels.

One aspect of the market that has not yet returned to precrisis levels is fund raising.

Many more companies are listing by way of introduction to the market, rather than simultaneously raising capital through their listings.

Yet with corporate activity much stronger generally this year - and with a full pipeline of listings in the works - prospects for activity on the JSE in the new year appear good.

cohent@bdfm.co.za