MTN Users Rise 1.1% as Nigeria Counters South Africa Slide

MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest wireless operator, said subscriber numbers across its 22 markets rose 1.1 percent in the first quarter after slight growth in Nigeria countered a decline in customers in South Africa.

Users in Nigeria, MTN’s biggest market, rose “marginally” to 57.2 million in the quarter ended March 31, while in South Africa, the second-largest, they declined by 824,768 to 24.9 million, taking the total across operations to 210.1 million, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement today.

“Our operating environment remains tough with persistent price competition and regulatory challenges in key markets,” Chief Executive Officer Sifiso Dabengwa said in the statement. “Data and mobile money remain key areas of focus for the group as traditional voice revenue remains under pressure.”

South African customer numbers declined last year after weak consumer spending and tough competition hampered business in the continent’s largest economy after Nigeria. MTN has been under pressure from regulators in the west African nation, where it was fined in February for poor service. The company is seeking legal action in South Africa over plans to halve mobile termination rates, the amount it can charge competitors to use its network.

Share Performance

The phone company’s shares fell as much as 3.1 percent and were down 3 percent to 209.94 rand as of 9:39 a.m. in Johannesburg. The stock has gained 27 percent in 12 months.

“MTN Nigeria delivered a satisfactory performance during the quarter and increased its subscriber base despite the one-month ban on the sale of SIMs imposed by the Nigerian Communications Commission,” the company said.

Data revenue rose 43 percent in the quarter, compared with a year earlier, and represented 17 percent of total sales, MTN said. The number of mobile money subscribers advanced 12 percent.

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