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MTN Considers Cancelling Nigeria IPO

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

The management of MTN Group Limited is considering cancelling its much-awaited listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) via an Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Some weeks ago, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said MTN agreed to list its shares on the local bourse before May 2019.

This was part of an agreement reach to reduce a $5.2 billion fine slammed on it in 2016 to $1 billion for failing to disconnect unregistered subscribers on its network.

Late August 2018, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) directed MTN Nigeria to refund $8.1 billion to the country, claiming the firm did not properly repatriate the amount to South Africa some years ago.

Days later, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Abubakar Malami, said the company should pay $2 billion in tax arrears.

In a report on Tuesday, Bloomberg said the wireless carrier said it may no longer seek to raise capital through the IPO.

However, MTN is looking at other ways to trade the stock in Lagos, including a so-called introduction, in which existing shares are listed.

Quoting the Chief Financial Officer of MTN Group, Mr Ralph Mupita, in an interview in Johannesburg, the report said MTN’s board still needs to make a final decision.

“The IPO type of listing has become challenging under current market conditions,” Mr Mupita said, adding that, “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.”

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 Mr Mupita.

“We have sought legal protection for our Nigerian business and a judge has been appointed for upcoming hearings,” Mr 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.

MTN’s shares pared an earlier gain of as much as 3.7 percent to close 2.1 percent higher at 89.40 rand 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 Mr 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, Mr 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,” Mr 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 Mr Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Financial Derivatives Co., speaking from Lagos. The government should resolve the issue with MTN “as quickly as possible.”

Modupe Gbadeyanka is a fast-rising journalist with Business Post Nigeria. Her passion for journalism is amazing. She is willing to learn more with a view to becoming one of the best pen-pushers in Nigeria. Her role models are the duo of CNN's Richard Quest and Christiane Amanpour.

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