MTN mulls Nigerian IPO, seeks other listing options

JOHANNESBURG — The MTN saga in Nigeria seems to be taking another turn as the group’s CFO Ralph Mupita said other ways to trade the stock may be a future option. Mupita talks about an ‘introduction’, whereby existing shares are traded, and says there’s no need for the capital raising nature of a traditional initial public offering. Mupita says the reason for this is the Nigerian business wouldn’t get fair value. It’s important to note that the move is still to be approved by board, but it does signal a change in stance, as the telecoms group still faces a ‘softened stance’ on a $10 billion claim by authorities. Given the tit-for-tat nature of this spat, it will be interesting to see how the Nigerian authorities take this statement, and whether or not it changes their view on current litigation. And while the Financial Times recently published an article on the scramble for Africa, it’s events like these that may slow such a stampede down. – Stuart Lowman

By Loni Prinsloo

(Bloomberg) – MTN Group Ltd., the wireless carrier facing a combined $10 billion in claims from authorities in Nigeria, said it may no longer seek to raise capital through an initial public offering on the country’s stock exchange.

Africa’s largest mobile carrier is reconsidering the IPO amid a dispute with authorities in its biggest market that wiped more than a third off the company’s market value over three weeks. MTN pledged to list the shares after being fined $1 billion for not disconnecting SIM cards two years ago.

MTN Group Ltd. Full Year Results News Conference As Company Mulls Exit Of War-Torn African Markets
MTN CEO Rob Shuter and CFO Ralph Mupita speak during a news conference to announce the company’s full year results at their headquarters in Johannesburg on March 8, 2018. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

MTN is looking at other ways to trade the stock in Lagos, including a so-called introduction, in which existing shares are listed, Chief Financial Officer Ralph Mupita said in an interview in Johannesburg. MTN’s board still needs to make a final decision, he said.

“The IPO type of listing has become challenging under current market conditions,” Mupita said. “We are exploring other options. The Nigerian business would not get fair value under current market conditions.” A listing by introduction is the simplest way forward, he said.

MTN could complete the listing by the end of this year or first quarter of 2019, the CFO said. Despite the dispute with the central bank over the repatriation of $8.1 billion out of Nigeria and a separate tussle over $2 billion in back taxes, MTN is committed to a listing, said Mupita.

“We have sought legal protection for our Nigerian business and a judge has been appointed for upcoming hearings,” Mupita said. The central bank last week said it is considering new information provided by MTN and four banks into the outflows and that it expects to resolve the matter soon.

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MTN’s shares pared an earlier gain of as much as 3.7 percent to close 2.1 percent higher at R89.40 in Johannesburg on Monday. In the weeks after Nigerian authorities challenged the transfer of funds, MTN plunged 35 percent, but the stock has since recovered about half of that drop. “That cost our shareholders $5.5 billion,” said Mupita. MTN’s investor base is about 44 percent South African. Other major shareholders are based in the US, the UK, Europe and the Middle East.

MTN still sees a great business case for Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, with less than a third of users currently on the internet, Mupita said.

“We are engaging with authorities and investors and hope to reach a speedy resolution on the matter, to deal with the overhang on our share and the concerns of shareholders about Nigeria’s investment climate for foreign companies,” Mupita said.

Nigerian authorities have come under criticism following an impasse with MTN and lenders including Citigroup Inc., Standard Chartered Plc, Standard Bank Group Ltd. and Lagos-based Diamond Bank Plc that threatened to spook investors.

“Investors are getting very nervous and the last thing Nigeria needs is for investors to be nervous,” said Bismarck Rewane, chief executive officer of Financial Derivatives Co., speaking from Lagos. The government should resolve the issue with MTN “as quickly as possible.”