Emma Okonji with agency report
Executive Chairman, MTN Group, South Africa, Phuthuma Nhleko, said on Thursday that the company has set aside N118.8 billion (about $600 million) to cover a potential settlement of the fine imposed on its Nigerian subsidiary by the industry regulator.
It signalled that Africa’s largest mobile-phone company was confident the N780 billion penalty imposed on MTN Nigeria by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) may be reduced. The provision, which includes a N50 billion ($251 million) installment paid last week, accounts for about 15 per cent of the total fine.
Nhleko also said the company may list its Nigerian unit on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), reported Reuters.
Nhleko said in Johannesburg when announcing the company’s 2015 results that the listing would take place in Lagos once the company resolves the disputed fine with the Nigerian government.
The fine was imposed by the NCC last October after MTN Nigeria failed to disconnect 5.2 million unregistered subscribers on its network.
The company was initially fined N1.04 trillion but was reduced to N780 billion after appealing to the Nigerian government for leniency.
It was given till December 31, 2015 to pay the fine but instead sued the federal government challenging the fine. The case was withdrawn last week when it also paid the N50 billion as a mark of good faith towards a negotiated settlement of the fine.
Commenting on the provision, Nhleko said: “MTN’s auditors have required that the company make a provision in line with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Discussions with the Nigerian authorities continue on the matter.”
The management of MTN Nigeria, however, clarifed that the $600 million set aside in the financial results was in accordance with the principle of prudence in generally accepted accounting standards. This requires that reasonable provisions be made for contingent liabilities.
According to the company’s financial results, in the period under review, MTN Nigeria invested $94 million in renewing its 2G licences. It also concluded the acquisition of Visafone Communications.
These developments, combined with the acquisition of a 4G/LTE licence and digital TV spectrum, highlight MTN’s long term commitment to improving the quality of broadband services, a national priority for the Nigerian government.
Chief Executive Officer of MTN Nigeria, Mr. Ferdi Moolman, said: “We have invested more than $16bn in Nigeria over the past 15 years and contribute an estimated 4.5% to GDP. We are proud of the fact that we are an integral part of the Nigerian economic and social fabric. We remain committed to the country and our top priorities are to improve network and service quality, as well as data speeds for our customers.
“Compliance with regulatory requirements also remain a focus. Although subscriber registration is highly complex given limited national identity databases and personal documentation, we remain committed to registering subscribers with the use of improved systems and processes.”
MTN said it would continue to invest in digital services, ranging from e-commerce to digital media and mobile financial and lifestyle services.
Moolman added: “We have put in place the operating and management structures, as well as made critical investments, to ensure that we improve our competitiveness in 2016. MTN is an enabler of socio economic growth in Nigeria.
“Our infrastructure supports critical sectors of the economy, from financial services to oil and gas and commerce. We remain committed to Nigeria and will continue to invest in the country through our operations and the MTN Foundation.”
The MTN Foundation, which has invested N18 billion in 550 projects and empowered more than three million people in communities across Nigeria since its inception, continues to focus on sustainable projects in three key areas, namely health, education and economic empowerment, the report said.
Nhleko disclosed that headline earnings per share (EPS) came in at 746 cents in the year, which ended in December, 2015, compared with 1,536 cents in the previous year.
The company raised its annual dividend by 5.2 per cent to 1,310 cents per share, but said it may reduce the 2016 dividend if more funds are needed to pay the fine.
“We have adopted a cautious approach to the dividend outlook, taking into account the interests of shareholders and lenders and the importance of maintaining an investment-grade credit rating,” MTN said. “This minimum dividend remains subject to the outcome of the regulatory fine.”
According to Bloomberg, MTN’s shares climbed 7 per cent, the most in almost a month, to 145.27 rand as of 9:51 am in Johannesburg. That reduced the decline since the fine was made public on October 26 to 24 per cent, valuing MTN at 268 billion rand ($17 billion).
“My expectations are that the Nigerian government would want MTN to pay at least a $1 billion over not longer than a year period,” Dobek Pater, managing director of research firm Africa Analysis, said by phone. “But MTN must have a feel for what is going on with the ongoing negotiations on the fine.”
The group also said it expects Nigeria to devalue the naira by up to 22 per cent at some point this year, chief financial officer Brett Goschen said.
The naira trades officially at N197 against the dollar but changes hands on the black market at nearer N330 to the greenback.
Goschen said he expects Nigeria’s central bank will devalue the official rate to 230-240/$ this year.