MTN wants speedy conclusion to Bharti deal

MTN wants speedy conclusion to Bharti deal

Johannesburg: South African mobile operator MTN wants to conclude a proposed tie-up with Indian partner Bharti Airtel quickly to end any doubt about the deal, chief executive Phuthuma Nhleko said.

“We want to do the deal sooner rather than later because we are really uncomfortable with the uncertainty," Nhleko told Reuters on Thursday.

Last week, Bharti and MTN extended talks aimed at creating the world’s third-biggest mobile company for a second time, frustrating investors who wanted the deal finalized, and raising concerns its structure was too complex to succeed.

Both firms agreed to extend talks to 30 September, after previously extending discussions by a month to 31 August, as they negotiate a $23 billion cash and share-swap deal aimed at an eventual full merger.

On Thursday, MTN posted first-half results showing headline earnings per share (EPS) rose 22.5% to 415.5 cents, in line with its forecast for a rise of 19.8-24.8%.

Its shares were 0.8% higher at 128.40 rand by 1245 GMT, outperforming a flat JSE blue chip Top-40 index.

Nhleko said that under the proposed deal with Bharti, MTN would continue to be listed on the Johannesburg bourse, adding there were misconceptions about the proposed transaction.

“MTN remains the way it is. All that happens is that Bharti takes a stake in MTN and vice versa. The character and the identity remains the way it is and the company continues to expand from South Africa," he said.

The South African group is trying to diversify beyond its key markets of Nigeria and South Africa and has been banking on a new venture in Iran, which some investors deem risky given the country’s nuclear stand-off with the West.

Nhleko said MTN was keen to enter the Angolan market if a licence became available.

MTN said adjusted first-half headline EPS fell 10.9% to 363.8 cents per share. Headline EPS, the main profit gauge in South Africa, excludes certain one-off, financial and non-trading items.

MTN said its subscriber base grew 14% to 103.2 million in the six months to end-June, and Nhleko said the company expected to add 22.6 million users by the year-end.

Its operation in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest telecoms market, increased subscribers 19% to 27.3 million, and is expected to add 7.4 million by December, while its MTN Irancell unit increased subscriber numbers 20% to 19.2 million.