Airtel Africa reports Profit slump by 21.1% worth $261m as Subscribers Base Spikes 11% to 118.9m

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Passers-by walk past an airtel company billboard in a street of Niamey on May 28, 2019. - Airtel plans to enter London stock market, AFP reports on May 28, 2019. (Photo by Boureima HAMA / AFP)BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP/Getty Images

Leading provider of telecommunications and mobile money services, Airtel Africa has announced its Q3 2021 results for the nine-months ended 31 December 2020, with underlying constant currency revenue growth of 18.6% for the nine-months, and 22.8% in the third quarter.

Key Highlights:

reported revenue increased by 13.8% to $2,870m with Q3’21 reported revenue growth of 19.5%.
Constant currency underlying revenue growth was 18.6%, with Q3’21 growth of 22.8%. Growth for the nine months was recorded across all regions: Nigeria up 21.6%, East Africa up 23.4% and Francophone Africa up 8.0%; and across all services, with voice revenue up 10.4%, data up 31.1% and mobile money up 34.2%.
Underlying EBITDA for the nine months was $1,297m, up 16% in reported currency while constant currency underlying EBITDA growth was 22.5%.
Underlying EBITDA margin for the nine months was 45.5%, up by 118 bps (up 144 bps in constant currency). Q3’21 underlying EBITDA margin was 46.9%.
Operating profit increased by 21.8% to $800m in reported currency, and by 29.9% in constant currency.
Free cash flow was $466m, up 20% compared to the same period last year.
Basic EPS was 5.5 cents, down 36.5%, largely due to prior year exceptional items and a one-off derivative gain. Excluding these, basic EPS rose by 19.8%. EPS before exceptional items was 5.0 cents.
Customer base up 11.0% to 118.9 million, with increased penetration across mobile data (customer base up 23.5%) and mobile money services (customer base up 29.0%). 2.5 million customers were added in Q3’21.
Profit after tax

Profit after tax was $261m, down by 21.1%. This was largely a result of the prior-year period recognition of a one-off gain of $72m related to the expired indemnity to certain pre-IPO investors, a higher deferred tax credit of $29m in the previous period, as well as higher finance costs and tax in the current period.

Excluding the benefit of exceptional items and one-off derivative gain of $47m in the prior period, profit after tax has increased by 30.1%.

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Raghunath Mandava, Chief Executive Officer, on the trading update:

“Our nine-month performance reflects both the resilience of our business model through the Covid-19 pandemic and, for the last six months, a continued improvement in our execution and performance as lockdown restrictions have eased across our countries of operation.

I am particularly pleased with our performance in the latest third quarter, which has demonstrated accelerated growth in both revenue and underlying EBITDA in constant currency to 22.8% and 28.3% respectively.

In part, this is due to our continued delivery of strong customer growth in Q3, despite the introduction mid-December of additional customer registration requirements in Nigeria.

This has meant a temporary halt to the ability of all operators in the country to onboard new customers. But we are working closely with the government to ensure that all our subscribers provide their valid National Identification Numbers (NINs) and update their SIM registration records, such that disruption is minimised.

Our performance improvement is evident across the business. Regionally, I am pleased to see that the continued strong revenue growth in Nigeria and East Africa, growing 21.6% and 23.4% in constant currency, is increasingly being matched by improvements across Francophone Africa, posting 8.0% growth for the period and 15.0% in Q3.

Our rollout into rural markets, along with robust customer growth, helped voice grow 10%, while data and mobile money continued to be growth engines, with over 30% growth.

Finally, while the Covid-19 pandemic has had little impact on our most recent quarter, we remain vigilant about the recent news flow around new strains of the virus and further actions by governments to minimise contagion in our countries of operation.

The opportunities for sustainable profitable growth from our underpenetrated markets for both mobile and mobile money services remain hugely attractive, and we are confident of continuing to deliver on our growth strategy.”

Dividend

In October 2020, the Board approved a new progressive dividend policy during the period as a result of the continued strong business performance, significant opportunities to invest in future growth and the aim to continue to reduce leverage.

The newly adopted dividend policy aims to grow the dividend annually by a mid to high single-digit percentage from a base of 4 cents per share for FY 2021 until reported leverage (calculated as net debt to underlying EBITDA) falls below 2.0x.

At the point when reported leverage (calculated as net debt to underlying EBITDA) is below 2.0x, the Board will reassess the dividend policy in light of the growth outlook for the Group. On 28 October 2020, in line with the dividend policy, the Board declared an interim dividend of 1.5 cents per ordinary share which was paid on 11 December 2020.

Licence renewal in Nigeria

In January 2021, Airtel Networks Limited (Airtel Nigeria), announced that its application for renewal of the spectrum licences in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands had been approved by the Nigerian Communications Commission (“NCC”).

Pursuant to Section 43 of the Nigerian Communications Act, 2003 and Condition 20 of the Unified Access Service Licence (UASL), Airtel Nigeria had applied to renew its spectrum licences in the 900MHz and 1800MHz bands which would otherwise expire on 30 November 2021.

Following the application, the NCC offered Airtel Nigeria the opportunity to renew its spectrum licences in the 900MHz & 1800MHz bands for a period of ten years, with effect from 1 December 2021 until 30 November 2031, which Airtel Nigeria accepted.

Under the terms of the spectrum licences, Airtel Nigeria paid 71.611 billion naira ($189 million) in respect of the licence renewal fees.

New SIM registration rules in Nigeria

Following a directive issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission on 15 December 2020 to all Nigerian telecom operators, Airtel Nigeria is working with the government to ensure that all our subscribers provide their valid National Identification Numbers (NINs) to update SIM registration records.

New customer acquisitions are currently barred until significant progress is made on linking the current active base with verified NINs. The deadline for customers to register their NIN with their SIM has moved from a provisional date of 30 December 2020 in the initial directive in order to accommodate the logistical challenges involved.

The latest deadline for registration is currently 9 February 2021. We have made significant progress on capturing existing NINs and building the database in collaboration with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).

To date, out of Airtel Nigeria’s 44.4 million customers, we have collated NIN information for 21 million mobile customers (47%). To complete the registration process we still need to verify the NIN information we have received from our subscribers with the NIMC.

This requires improved connectivity with the NIMC database which is currently being developed for all the Nigerian mobile operators. Airtel also opened enrolment centres in collaboration with the NIMC to facilitate customers obtaining NINs for roughly half of the population that do not currently have a NIN. We continue to work closely with the government to ensure full compliance.

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Godwin Okafor is a Financial Journalist, Internet Social Entrepreneur and Founder of Naija247news Media Limited. He has over 16 years experience in financial journalism. His experience cuts across traditional and digital media. He started his journalism career at Business Day, Nigeria and founded Naija247news Media in 2010. Godwin holds a Bachelors degree in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos. He is an alumni of Lagos Business School and a Fellow of the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists). Over the years, he has won a number of journalism awards. Godwin is the chairman of Emmerich Resources Limited, the publisher of Naija247news.

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