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MTN Cuts Subscriber Target as Iran Customer Numbers Fall

MTN Group Headquarters
A pedestrian checks his mobile handset as he passes a giant logo outside the headquarters of MTN Group Ltd. in Johannesburg. Photographer: Nadine Hutton/Bloomberg

MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest wireless operator, cut its full-year target for new subscribers as regulations limited growth and customer numbers fell in Iran.

The company reduced its goal for net additional subscribers in 2013 by 9 percent to 19.1 million, Nik Kershaw, head of investor relations, said by phone today. MTN Irancell’s customer base contracted 1.7 percent to 41.3 million because of a weakening economy in the Middle East country and the withdrawal of a sim card promotion, he said.

MTN increased its subscriber numbers by 2.2 million to 203.8 million in the three months through September, lower than the company had forecast, it said in a statement today. The growth slowed from an increase of 6.3 million users on average over the previous three quarters. MTN’s largest market, Nigeria, added 358,000 customers after expanding the user base by more than 9 million in the previous three quarters, the Johannesburg-based company said.

“The third quarter has been characterized by lower than anticipated subscriber growth following ongoing price competition and subscriber registration requirements across a number of markets,” MTN Chief Executive Officer Sifiso Dabengwa said in the statement. “Data and mobile money remain a key focus for the group with traditional voice revenue under pressure.”

Iran Sanctions

MTN shares fell as much as 2.3 percent and traded 1.4 percent lower at 198.29 rand as of 12:30 p.m. in Johannesburg. The company, which operates in more than 20 countries including Syria and Afghanistan, is reviewing its cost base in South Africa and may eliminate jobs, the company said in August.

MTN has made progress on repatriating about $450 million from its Iranian unit that’s been subject to U.S. sanctions, Kershaw said in the phone interview.

“We continue to engage with the relevant authorities around that,” he said. “It’s something very difficult to forecast. We are making some progress but it’s a long process.”

The company’s Nigerian unit has been affected by a mandatory SIM registration deadline, disconnections in Borno state where services were shut down and lower connections based on the earlier-generation GSM technology, MTN said in the statement.

“These factors will continue to impact net additions for the balance of the year,” the company said.

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