More Blue Label pain? S&P downgrades Cell C after missed interest payments

By Loni Prinsloo

(Bloomberg) – South Africa’s third-largest wireless carrier, Cell C Pty Ltd, had its credit rating cut to D by rating agency S&P Global after it failed to make interest payments due in July.

There is “an increased likelihood that Cell C will be unable to repay all or substantially all of the obligations as they come due, unless it is able to restructure its debt and recapitalise its balance sheet,” S&P said in a statement on Thursday.

Cell C suspended the payments as part of an effort to recapitalise the company and increase liquidity, Chief Executive Officer Douglas Craigie Stevenson said in an interview in Cape Town on Thursday. Deloitte & Touche has been appointed to determine the correct capital structure for the business, he said.

“We are in talks with our lenders to work on our debt profile,” Craigie Stevenson said. “We plan to complete a recapitalisation of the business by the end of the year, if all goes according to plan.”

Also read: Jose Dos Santos’ colourful era as Cell C CEO comes to an end

The company, based in Johannesburg, is struggling to service an almost R9bn ($590m) debt load. Though a stake stale to Blue Label Telecoms Ltd in 2017 helped it cut borrowings, the company is still struggling.

In the meantime, it is working on creating a network-sharing agreement with MTN Group Ltd, Africa’s largest mobile phone company by sales, Craigie Stevenson said. It’s also seeking funding from the Buffet Group.