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Investment bankers circle MTN as woes hammer its share price

By News Express on 06/03/2017

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•MTN Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko.
•MTN Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko.


With MTN's share price plunging 55% from its peak on rising regulatory burdens, difficult operating environments in places such as Syria and ever-increasing competition in its domestic market, industry insiders are touting the prospects of corporate activity around the mobile operator that is Africa's biggest.

Investment bankers are said to be circling the group chaired by Phuthuma Nhleko as both a potential takeover target by an international player and an acquirer itself. Africa remains one of the few growth spots in an increasingly maturing mobile market.

"Consolidation in this market is a logical and value-adding move for the sector," a company insider said this week, cautioning that in the markets in which it operates the group faced a challenge in getting the approval of competition authorities.

The insider said the company, which operates in 22 countries across the continent and in the Middle East, has attracted interest from investment bankers, although no firm offer was tabled.

From a long-term range of about 10 years or more, McCurrie said there was still much value a buyer could extract.

Apart from its regulatory headaches in Nigeria - further complicated by that country's economy struggling because of low oil prices - MTN has faced rising competition in its domestic market from smaller rival Vodacom and a resurgent Telkom.

MTN had been on the back foot in terms of investments in its infrastructure because of management's focus on its regulatory issues, said Alastair Jones, analyst at London-based New Street Research. "They [MTN] tend to react to competition ... there's been significant management changes. We'll have to see how shareholders will benefit from that."

Since Nhleko's return to lead MTN through the battle with Nigeria's regulatory authorities in November 2015 as executive chairman, the company has appointed a chief executive officer, chief financial officer and chief operating officer among a host of other appointments.

On whether there would be interest in acquiring MTN, Jones - who has had a "reduce" recommendation on the stock since September - said it would be "difficult" for an international operator to convince its shareholders to back a bid, given the challenges MTN faces.

"It's not materially expensive, but certainly not cheap given the challenges it faces ... it would be very difficult."

Kate Turner-Smith, research analyst at BPI Capital Africa, said that if MTN were to be absorbed by an international player another issue from a competition perspective would be the "validity of transferring spectrum licences". These relate to radio-frequency spectrum, which is necessary to offer products dependent on advanced and high-speed technology.

MTN was the subject of merger talks in the late 2000s at least three times. These failed for various reasons.

Previous merger talks included a $23-billion tie-up with India's Bharti Airtel which failed in 2009 after South African authorities allegedly scuppered the deal.

A year later, the mobile operator bid for the African assets of Orascom Telecom, based in the Middle East, but the Algerian government denied approval. Four years ago, there was talk about a renewed merger with another Indian firm, Reliance, but this also fell by the wayside.

Domestically, speculation around a possible deal with the Sipho Maseko-led Telkom has been the order of the day since the group failed with a 2007 bid for the fixed-line assets of what was then a much-troubled state-controlled player. There was renewed speculation about two years ago on a possible tie-up, but it did not materialise.

Consolidation has been a key feature of the local market in recent months with the fate of Cell C taking centre stage.

This week, the struggling and smallest of South Africa's mobile operators secured support for a R5.5-billion bid by Blue Label.

The third-largest mobile operator won support from creditors to push ahead with a debt-restructuring deal involving Blue Label, and in the process fended off a potential rival bid from Telkom. (Sunday Times SA)

Source News Express

Posted 06/03/2017 11:01:16 AM


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