MTN Raises South Africa Investment to $757 Million for Deals

  • Phone company plans digital acquisitons, network spending
  • Threat of $3.9 billion Nigeria fine had crimped capex plans

MTN Group Ltd. raised its South Africa investment target by 50 percent as the continent’s biggest wireless operator by sales looks to boost its data-services offering with acquisitions and network upgrades in its home market.

Capital expenditure will be about 12 billion rand ($757 million) in the country in 2016, MTN’s South Africa head Mteto Nyati told reporters in Johannesburg on Thursday. That compares with an 8 billion rand target announced by the company in March. MTN spent 10.9 billion rand in Africa’s most industrialized economy last year.

“We are investing for growth,” Nyati said. “The MTN South Africa board and the board of the MTN Group have not placed any limitations on our acquisition spending.”

The extra cash will help Johannesburg-based MTN’s South African unit keep pace with Vodacom Group Ltd., which recently surpassed its cross-town rival to become Africa’s most valuable phone company by market capitalization. MTN was part of a legal challenge that prevented Vodacom from acquiring Internet provider Neotel Pty Ltd. this year, which would have given it a head-start in digital services. Both companies have been looking for alternative deals. MTN is also spending on improvements to network-service quality and rolling out a 3G offering.

Internet Deals

The wireless operator will target deals similar to its $40 million February co-investment in Travelstart, an online flight and hotel-booking company based in Cape Town, Nyati said. Another benchmark deal was MTN’s 2014 purchase of a third of Africa Internet Holding, a joint venture with Millicom International Cellular SA and Rocket International, which owns Africa-focused online retailers Jumia and Zando. MTN has about 229 million customers across 22 markets.

MTN scaled back spending targets at the start of the year following a record $3.9 billion fine in Nigeria, acting MTN South Africa Chief Technology Officer Krishna Chetty said at the same event. The company is negotiating with the government for a possible settlement.

While the full penalty remains unpaid, the South African unit was able to persuade the MTN board that higher network spend was necessary to grow the business and compete better with Vodacom, majority owned by Newbury, England-based Vodafone Group Plc. Nigeria’s capital expenditure target this year has been raised to about $1 billion from $700 million, Chetty said.

MTN shares declined 1.1 percent to 126.05 rand in Johannesburg, valuing the company at 233 billion rand. Vodacom was little changed and has a market capitalization of 244 billion rand.

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