MTN grows customer base despite Nigeria drama
The MTN group added 2.5 million new subscribers in the third quarter of the year, boosted by a strong performance in its embattled Nigerian operations and robust growth out of Ghana. However, MTN SA lost subscribers during the quarter.
The group now has 225.4 million subscribers in 21 countries across Africa and the Middle East, following the sale of MTN Cyprus in September.
The quarterly update for the period ended 30 September, published this morning, shows active data subscribers grew by five million quarter-on-quarter to 74.2 million. Active Mobile Money (MoMo) customers increased by 1.7 million quarter-on-quarter, to 25.8 million across the group.
"MTN recorded an improved operational performance in many markets in the third quarter. Group service revenue grew by 10% year-on-year, ahead of our medium-term target of upper-single-digit growth, supported by continued strong growth in voice and data revenue," says MTN group president and CEO Rob Shuter.
"These results were delivered in challenging operating and currency conditions. Group outgoing voice revenue increased by 5.2% and data revenue increased by 23.9%."
In SA, the group saw a 2.3% decline in subscribers quarter-on-quarter, to almost 29.5 million, but despite this, the South African operation grew service revenue by 3% year-on-year, edging closer to its medium-term target of mid-single-digit growth.
Local data and digital revenue increased by 12.5% and 9.9% respectively, while outgoing voice revenue declined by 8.4%.
"In a weak economy, consumers felt the pressure of a higher VAT rate, becoming increasingly price-sensitive. Prepaid service revenue increased 0.5% and postpaid service revenue increased by 1.9%," the group adds.
At the end of the quarter, MTN SA had 23.7 million prepaid users (down 3.4% quarter-on-quarter), 2.9 million postpaid subscribers (up 2.1% quarter-on-quarter) and 2.8 million telemetry subscribers.
MTN says the Cell C roaming agreement is contributing positively towards revenue and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation and is expected to be fully implemented in line with its planned timelines.
"We are in consultation with ICASA on the implementation of the new data pricing regulations and are proactively implementing the various changes to which we have committed. We welcome the commitment by ICASA to license high-demand radio frequency spectrum by the end of March 2019," the group says.
West Africa windfalls
Shuter says the group benefited from the particularly strong performance of operations in Nigeria and Ghana, while some operations in the West and Central Africa region remained under pressure, including those of Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
MTN Ghana delivered a strong performance, driven by robust service revenue growth of 22.9% year-on-year. Ghana's active subscribers grew by 3.5% quarter-on-quarter, to 17.1 million, and data revenue increased by 30.9% year-on-year. Digital revenue expanded by more than 28%, driven by MoMo. The group also successfully completed the listing of MTN Ghana.
Shuter says MTN Nigeria's plans to list have been challenged by the recent Central Bank of Nigeria and attorney-general of the Federal Republic of Nigeria matters, but "MTN remains committed to the listing in Nigeria and work continues in this regard".
During the quarter, the Central Bank of Nigeria alleged improper dividend repatriations by MTN Nigeria between 2007 and 2015 of $8.1 billion (R118 billion), while the attorney-general alleged unpaid taxes on foreign payments and imports of approximately $2 billion (R29 billion). MTN Nigeria continues to deny these allegations and claims.
Earlier this month, central bank governor Godwin Emefiele told Reuters the sum would likely be reduced but couldn't say whether it will be dropped completely. An upcoming hearing in the court dispute between MTN and the central bank has reportedly been set for 30 October.
"In the quarter, the group engaged extensively with authorities in Nigeria to deal with the matters they raised," Shuter adds.
Despite the issues in the territory, MTN Nigeria had an excellent quarter, increasing service revenue by 17.4% year-on-year. This was led by a 52.5% increase in data revenue and 21.5% increase in outgoing voice revenue.
MTN Nigeria's subscribers grew by 1.5% quarter-on-quarter, to just over 56 million. MTN Nigeria reported 17.2 million active data subscribers, up 15.1% quarter-on-quarter, and 2.5 million MoMo customers, up 12.4% quarter-on-quarter.
Shuter says across the markets, MTN continued to invest in its networks and now has the leading network net promoter score in 10 of it markets. Reported capital expenditure to the end of September was R16.4 billion, a group capex intensity of 16.9%, he said.
"We continued to optimise our balance sheet structure and reduced our gross US dollar debt by approximately $400 million. This was supported by proceeds from the sale of MTN Cyprus of $303 million, the settlement of a loan from our Ugandan Tower Company of $34 million, as well as the proceeds from the MTN Ghana listing of $202 million received after the quarter's end."