MTN sells Botswana unit as start of R15bn asset sales

MTN. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
MTN. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

MTN Group has announced the disposal of its share in a Botswana joint venture, as Africa’s biggest wireless carrier by revenue kicks off a drive to raise at least R15bn from asset sales and strengthen the balance sheet.

The company agreed to sell its 53% stake in Botswana’s Mascom to Econet Wireless Zimbabwe for $300m, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement on Thursday. Bloomberg News reported the deal earlier this week.

Other businesses now on the market include e-commerce services, which includes Nigerian online retailer Jumia Technologies and MTN is also looking to sell its interest in IHS Towers, the company said.

The news comes a year after Chief Executive Officer Rob Shuter announced a review of MTN’s then-22 markets across the Middle East and Africa to evaluate ways of simplifying the business. The sale of MTN’s Botswana interest follows a disposal of its Cyprus unit for €260m.

"We are simplifying the group, we are reducing risk, and improving returns," Shuter said in a phone interview. "That will generate some returns that will be helpful for our gearing and other priorities."

MTN reported the strategy alongside 2018 adjusted earnings per share, excluding some items, of R3.37. That compared with a company guidance of R3.28 to R3.46. The company also raised its medium-term service-revenue guidance to double-digit percentage figures from upper-single-digits. Dividend growth will be in the 10% to 20% range, though for 2019 the payout will probably be at the lower end of the range.


The mobile-phone company is still facing a number of challenges across its territories, with a Nigeria court hearing into an alleged unpaid tax bill of about $2bn (about R28bn at current rates) due later this month.

That’s just the latest in a series of controversies in MTN’s biggest market. Late last year, the carrier agreed to pay $53m (about R753m) to settle a separate allegation about the illegal repatriation of funds, while a $1bn (over R14bn) fine in 2016 led to a full-year loss. MTN still plans to list its Nigeria unit in Lagos over the first half of the year.

The $53m outlay was among one-time costs outlined by MTN in a recent trading statement as hurting 2018 earnings. Those also include the effect of a stronger rand when compared to the various other currencies it uses in different markets.

MTN’s shares have slumped 39% in the last 12 months, and have declined for eight consecutive days. The stock is trading at six month lows, valuing the company at R143bn.

The carrier was cagey about recent challenges in Uganda, where its local CEO was deported last month. MTN has been granted an extension of its operating licence to allow for negotiations about a renewal, the company said.

MTN also reiterated that it sees "no legal merit" in a long-running $4.2bn lawsuit by Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri AS over the award of its Iran license. The case returned to the spotlight in February after South Africa’s former ambassador to Iran was arrested on corruption charges.

The full-year year dividend was R5 a share, while subscriber numbers increased to 233m across 21 countries.

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