Johannesburg may just have the best-educated business and investor population in the world. Apart from extensive daily and weekly print coverage, it's said that no other city in the world has such a rich menu of electronic business media to choose from. Every evening there are at least half a dozen competing radio programmes on Talk Radio 702, Kaya FM and Classic FM, and on three SABC stations - SAfm, RSG and Radio 2000 (the last two operated by Alec Hogg's Moneyweb).
Even on dedicated music channels like 5FM and Highveld Stereo, the general news bulletins routinely carry updates of commodity prices, currency exchange rates and economic indicators. Then there is regular TV coverage on public broadcasters e.tv and the SABC, not to mention the four hours of dedicated financial coverage every night on satellite channel Summit TV.
Not surprisingly, in such a crowded market, competition is fierce and the demand for subject matter urgent. This demand takes two main forms: for news, information and statistics; and for expert analysis and insights.
Some of the comment is provided by the broadcasters themselves, but the meat in the sandwich comes from professional economists and analysts, most of whom have an interest in indirectly publicising their companies. Also highly valued is the input from senior executives of listed companies, especially when they are reporting interim or final results. Naturally the competition for the time of these executives and analysts is intense, and radio and TV producers can't always get the guests they want when they want them.
With or without the experts, there is no shortage of numbers and everyone loves them. Apart from the flow resulting from the JSE reporting requirements, there is a stream of government-driven statistics and private-sector reports.
All these numbers are seductive, because they offer a "hard" common reference point for anyone who is interested in the economy, a sector or a company. It's also a paradox that the stronger that business confidence is in the macro-economic and policy environment, the more likely we are to delve deeper into the arcane world of statistics. If the fundamentals are stable, you tend to look into the companies themselves to find ways of differentiating them from one another.
This overall stability and confidence is relatively new. Two years ago, in the 2004 FM Top Companies, we noted in this foreword that SA's senior executives faced "a formidable and possibly unique multiple challenge". They needed to grow their businesses, while dealing with the complexities of governance, currency fluctuations, globalisation and (peculiar to the SA business environment) empowerment.
That complex challenge is still in place - but it's no longer the preoccupation it was and many companies have taken it in their stride.
By last year the bull run for most companies was well under way and we asked in the 2005 FM Top Companies: "Where's the catch?" Were the banks extending too much credit? Were we overborrowed? Would there be a property bubble?
The answer to these and similar anxious questions has turned out to be "no", and many have settled down to enjoy the boom and live amid the safety of the numbers. And the copious tables in this publication meet that demand, a kind of detailed annual snapshot of our listed corporate sector.
For those who want a corrective to the indulgence in statistics, remember the advice of Warren Buffett, the greatest individual investor in the world: don't worry about the market, look at individual companies and the people running them if you want value.