MTN Profit Gains as Data Revenue Offsets Nigerian Weakness

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MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest wireless carrier, said full-year profit gained 8.9 percent as data revenue growth and a recovery in South Africa helped offset lower-than-expected sales in Nigeria, its biggest market.

Headline earnings per share, which exclude one-time items, were 15.36 rand in 2014, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement on Wednesday. Sales increased 6.4 percent to 146 billion rand ($12.4 billion). Subscriber numbers are forecast to reach 240.9 million in 2015 across MTN’s 22 markets in Africa and the Middle East, an increase of 17.5 million customers.

“The group continued to benefit from encouraging growth in non-voice revenue, driven by various data initiatives, including mobile money,” the company said. “MTN South Africa’s performance was in line with our expectations and provided clear evidence in the second half of a successful turnaround.”

MTN has been exploring acquisitions as it seeks to increase smartphone penetration and boost revenue from data including mobile banking outside South Africa, where it trails crosstown rival Vodacom Group Ltd. in terms of subscriber numbers. The company is facing price competition and regulatory pressure in its biggest markets.

The shares gained as much as 2.8 percent, the biggest intraday jump since Feb. 12, and traded 1.8 percent higher at 212.18 rand as of 12:04 p.m. in Johannesburg. MTN will pay a final dividend of 8 rand a share, compared with 6.65 rand in 2013.

“MTN Nigeria’s performance was below expectations, impacted largely by regulatory determinations and economic pressures as well as operational challenges,” the company said. “Some level of uncertainty remains with regards to the implications of the oil price and currency fluctuations, which may lead to slower economic growth.”

Nigeria has 59.9 million MTN subscribers, compared with 28 million in South Africa. The company expects to add 4.75 million more in Nigeria in 2015, up from 3.1 million last year.

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