MTN cuts dividend

Johannesburg – MTN Group, Africa’s largest mobile-phone company, said it plans to cut the full-year dividend and put about R9.29 billion ($597 million) aside for payment toward a record $3.9 billion regulatory fine in Nigeria, its biggest market.

MTN will pay a minimum of R7 a share to investors in 2016, the Johannesburg-based wireless operator said in a statement on Thursday. That compares with a R13.10 dividend for last year, a 5.2 percent increase on 2014.

“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.”

MTN was fined by the Nigerian Communications Commission last year for missing a deadline to disconnect 5.1 million subscribers that the regulator had deemed to be unregistered in the country, which is tightening security as it battles an Islamist insurgency. The uncertainty surrounding the record penalty has wiped almost a third off the company’s share price since it was made public on October 26.

Read also: MTN profit slumps 50%

New CEO

The wireless operator said it put aside 9.29 billion rand toward the payment of the fine, which includes a 50 billion naira ($251 million) installment announced on February 24. That’s about 15 percent of the total. Negotiations on the settlement of the penalty are ongoing and being led by Executive Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko, who stepped in after CEO Sifiso Dabengwa resigned over the fine. MTN plans to appoint a new CEO during the second quarter of this year, the company said.

“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.”

Read also: Nigeria, MTN to begin new talks ‘soon’

Full-year earnings per share excluding one-time items fell 51 percent to R7.46 in 2015 as a result of the fine provision, and 25 percent excluding the one-time payment. Revenue increased 0.1 percent to R146.4 billion, as a rise in data revenue offset declining voice sales in Nigeria and handset sales in South Africa. The number of subscribers across more than 20 markets increased 4.1 percent to 232.5 million.

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