MTN's [JSE:MTN] shares were trading 7.82% higher on Thursday morning after announcing its results for the year ended December 2018, which included plans to dispose of R15bn worth of assets and the launch of a new mobile streaming service.
Shares in the continent's largest mobile carrier were changing hands at R82.01 at 9.36 on Thursday.
A year ago, however, they were trading at R135.00.
The group has had a tough year, facing, among other things, what it termed "several regulatory headwinds", including a well-publicised dispute with the Central Bank of Nigeria over historical dividend repatriations.
Nigeria was seeking about $2bn in back taxes from the wireless carrier after refusing to accept the results of a self-assessment by the company.
The office of Nigeria’s attorney general calculated that the company owes $2bn related to the import of foreign equipment and payments to suppliers over the past 10 years.
MTN said this had since been resolved.
In a statement, MTN said it was satisfied with its results, and declared a final dividend of 325 cents.
Group Ebitda rose by over 15% and reported headline earnings per share (HEPS) increased to 337 cents from 182 cents in 2017.
The group increased its subscriber base by 16 million to 233 million customers across 21 markets in Africa and the Middle East, it said, with the number of active data users increasing by 10 million to 79 million.
The active mobile money subscriber base rose to 27 million, driving a 10,7% constant currency increase in service revenue to R125.4bn.
"The service revenue growth rate achieved is ahead of both prior year and our guidance and – more importantly – is above the average rate of inflation in our markets, which means we are delivering real growth in service revenue," said Rob Shuter, MTN’s group president and CEO.
Taking on Spotify, WhatApp, WeChat?
The group said it would be taking on music streaming and instant messaging in the coming year as "key focus areas", as well as extending MTN mobile money from 15 to 18 countries through launches in SA, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Sudan.
The instant messaging app would be similar to WeChat or WhatsApp, Shuter said, while the mobile money service will be targeted towards the under-served market in SA.
"We see significant opportunity to grow subscribers and voice revenue as we also execute on the large mobile data opportunity," added Shuter. "We are also extending our strategy to build MTN into a digital operator with a major focus on the fintech, digital, enterprise and wholesale business areas."
Assets and risks
Asset sales and risk management would also form a core part of its strategy going forward, MTN said.
Bloomberg earlier reported that the group would be disposing of its Botswana associate, Mascom, for R300m, as part of a three-year R15bn asset sale plan.
"The group has R40bn tied up in the value of the e-commerce and tower company investments and has announced that they are not viewed as long-term strategic assets of the group and will be monetised over time," MTN said.
Subsidiary companies and associates other than Mascom were also potentially on the chopping block, the statement added.
"MTN has conducted an extensive review of its portfolio to reduce risk, improve returns and simplify MTN. This review covered not only its subsidiary companies but also its associates and its investments in e-commerce investments and tower companies."
Regarding its dispute with Nigeria, MTN said they had agreed ta resolution payment of $53m. "The group is committed to further enhancing its risk management and stakeholder management processes," MTN said.