Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. (ST), Southeast Asia’s biggest phone company, posted first-quarter profit that missed analyst estimates as currency moves and lower sales at its Australian unit cut earnings.
Net income rose 3.2 percent to S$945.3 million ($759 million) in the three months ended June 30 from a year earlier, the company, also known as SingTel, said in a statement today. That compares with the S$974.3 million average of three analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
Increased sales in Singapore, where the former government agency has about 46 percent of the mobile-phone market, was offset by falling sales at its Australian Optus unit, where pay- as-you-go customer numbers fell and call rates were cut, SingTel said. Earnings growth from its Indonesian and Thai associates was undermined by declines in the countries’ currencies against the Singapore dollar, the company said.
“They still need to look for new ways to drive their revenues,” Sachin Gupta, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Singapore, said by telephone before the results. Nomura has a neutral rating on shares of the Singapore-based company.
SingTel shares fell 0.9 percent to S$3.36 at the close of trade in Singapore, compared with a 0.8 percent gain in the Straits Times Index. The stock, with a dividend yield of 4.7 percent, has gained 8.7 percent this year.
“The market has been buying this stock for the yield, maybe expecting some sort of better-than-expected dividend,” Gregory Yap, an analyst at Kim Eng Securities Pte., said by telephone from Singapore. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Excluding one-time items, profit after tax fell 3 percent to S$850 million, the lowest figure on that measure since the quarter ended December 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Revenue for the full year through March 2013 will increase at “low single digit” rates, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization will be “stable,” the company said.
The earnings contribution from regional associates rose 2.4 percent to S$483 million in the quarter, the company said.
SingTel holds minority stakes in phone operators in more than 10 countries in Asia and Africa, with a total customer base of about 462 million as of June 30, making its earnings vulnerable to currency fluctuations.
“The Singapore dollar was very strong against most of the regional currencies and against the Australian dollar,” Chua Sock Koong, chief executive officer, told reporters in Singapore after the results. “As a result the Singapore dollar earnings were impacted adversely.”
Among 10 Asian currencies tracked by Bloomberg, the Indonesian rupiah and the Indian rupee are among the worst performers against the Singapore dollar this year. The Thai baht has also depreciated against the city-state’s currency.
Sales from Singapore rose 8 percent to S$1.67 billion, while those from Optus fell 3 percent in Australian dollars to A$2.24 billion ($2.4 billion). Total revenue dropped 1.6 percent to S$4.53 billion.
“There’s been significant erosion of profitability in the industry” in Australia in recent years, Paul O’Sullivan, Optus’s chief executive officer, told a media conference.
Optus’s competitors -- Telstra Corp. and the Vodafone Hutchison Australia Pty. venture of Vodafone Plc. and Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. -- had engaged in “a significant amount of profit destruction”, he said.
While Telstra said Aug. 9 it had improved mobile profit margins over the six months through June, earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization for the group fell 1.6 percent during the period even as sales rose 0.8 percent.
Still, Optus’s mobile customer growth during the period was the slowest since at least 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 103,000 new customers were added during the period, compared to about 640,000 taken up by Telstra and a loss of 178,000 at Vodafone.
SingTel is expanding its revenue streams amid slowing growth from its main markets in Singapore and Australia, and has announced about $899 million of acquisitions in the 12 months through June, including mobile advertiser Amobee Inc. for $321 million.
It may look to raise stakes in its regional associates or make other emerging-markets acquisitions, the company said at annual results May 10. While that will remain a focus, there aren’t many “attractive assets” around, Chua said
“We continue to keep an eye to see what’s there,” she said. “There are probably not a whole lot of opportunities available.”
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