MTN Group Ltd said that they may no longer seek to raise capital through an initial public offering. Photo: File

INTERNATIONAL – MTN Group, the wireless carrier facing a combined $10 billion (R142bn) in claims from authorities in Nigeria, said it might no longer seek to raise capital through an initial public offering (IPO) on the country’s stock exchange.

Africa’s largest mobile carrier is reconsidering the IPO amid a dispute with authorities in its biggest market that wiped more than a third off the company’s market value over three weeks. MTN pledged to list the shares after being fined $1bn for not disconnecting SIM cards two years ago.

MTN is looking at other ways to trade the stock in Lagos, including a so-called introduction, in which existing shares are listed, chief financial officer (CFO) Ralph Mupita said in an interview in Johannesburg. MTN’s board still needed to make a final decision, he said.

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

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 $8.1bn out of Nigeria and a separate tussle over $2bn in back taxes, MTN is committed to a listing, said Mupita.

“We have sought legal protection for our Nigerian business and a judge has been appointed for upcoming hearings,” 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 R89.40 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 $5.5bn,” said 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, 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,” Mupita said.

Nigerian authorities have come under criticism following an impasse with MTN and lenders including Citigroup, Standard Chartered, Standard Bank Group and Lagos-based Diamond Bank that threatened to spook investors.

“Investors are getting very nervous and the last thing Nigeria needs is for investors to be nervous," said Bismarck Rewane, chief executive of Financial Derivatives, speaking from Lagos. The government should resolve the issue with MTN “as quickly as possible.”