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Mascom: BPOPF, Masiyiwa in stalemate

In one morning of 2017, Boitumelo Molefe Chief Executive Officer of Botswana’s largest pension fund (BPOPF), and third largest in Africa got a demanding correspondence from one of her service providers Capital Management Botswana (CMB) that she signs an offer to purchase a minority (7%) of Mascom shares owned by Strive Masiyiwa through his company Econet by the aftyernoon on of the same day.  

CMB wanted to purchase the shares from Masiyiwa on behalf of the BPOPF.  CMB as an investment manager to the Fund one, and on the face of value would say there is nothing wrong with that. Sources close to the events state that, “There were problems on many fronts. BPOPF was given not only a subjective valuation of the shares, but there were also obscenely overpriced. 

CMB was requesting that the shares to be purchased don’t come from their allocated portion of money that they managed, but that BPOPF inject more money to them in order to buy the shares.  The timeline in which the CEO of BPOPF was to sign and accept the offer was impossible.  She literally had a few hours not to consider the offer but to agree to it.   Surely being put in the shoes of the BPOPF CEO Boitumelo Molefe, I would smell something sinister about this offer,” said the source.

“Fast forward two years down the line, the same would-be seller being Strive Masiyiwa at a joint Youth Leadership conference with government recently wants to buy more of the same shares he wanted to sell prior, and then list the company.  One might say, there’s nothing wrong in a man changing his mind.  But that’s not the point here.  Industry insiders and pension activists say the country should read a lot on the intentions of Strive Masiyiwa on Mascom.”

They decry that Masiyiwa may not be ideal for the 250,000 plus members of the BPOPF.  “BPOPF portion of shares have long been of interest from various groups.  First it was the usual ‘Big Men’ of town who wanted to take the Fund’s shares.  MTN then followed in wanting to consolidate their holdings.  Then Cater Morupisi claiming to represent government also got involved,” states the source.

Boitumelo Molefe is thought to have refused flat out to entertain the hostile purchase of Masiyiwa’s portion of shares in 2017 by CMB on behalf of BPOPF.  And this is one of many decisions that caused her relationship to go sour with her then Chairman Morupisi.  At the time BPOPF had valued Mascom at P3.5 billion pula, and yet CMB requested P700 million to purchase the 7% of Masiyiwa’s Econet shares.  At that amount it put the valuation of Mascom at P7 billion, which was way too high. 

Directly, or indirectly one then has to question the integrity of CMB.  Like any entrepreneur, Strive would have wanted maximum return for his shares.  But unfortunately for him the would-be transactors being CMB had questionable motives. “He needs to tell his side of his story, but one thing for sure he can’t fault us for wanting so desperately to question his renewed interest in Mascom.  “Once beaten, twice shy as the English language says.

At the Youth Conference, Econet Founder Strive Masiyiwa spoke of his intentions of buying MTN shares in Mascom, and then floating the company on the Botswana Stock Exchange.  He further went on to say that he would like Batswana and Mascom employees to actively participate in the IPO (Initial Public Offering).  This IPO media houses reported the listing could actually come within this year. BPOPF is thought to have had first refusal, and purchase the MTN shares but opted not to.

Said an analyst, “my considered view is that the same Strive Masiyiwa returning years later to buy more of the very same shares he wanted to sell should be put to a serious ethical test.  “More so that the actors whom he was perceived to be in cohorts with haven’t necessarily disappeared. The investment analyst continued to say hard questions should be asked of BPOPF why they didn’t exercise their right to buy more shares of Mascom. 

“Yes, a very lazy and easy excuse is that they are not in the business of telecommunications, or something along the lines that will increase their risk in the investment by buying more shares of the company…. blah blah…. blah.  “Mascom is no just a telecommunications company.  “It is a pride of the nation, just like Letshego, or a Kgalagadi Breweries. 

“What stopped BPOPF with each huge cash reserves doing exactly what Strive is going to be doing, buying the MTN shares and then listing them to reduce their concentration investment risk on the company?  “Strive Masiyiwa and his company are the only ones going to be smiling all the way to the bank.  “My gut feeling is that everything relates to this So called “Youth Conference” which was actually attended by adults, wanna-be CEOs of town. 

“Those that have long wanted to take Mascom away from us Batswana have now come wearing different clothes because it proved impossible before to do that.  “It is really upsetting that we continuously miss commercial opportunities and rather have foreigners come take what we could have done here.  “The loser here is BPOPF, and Botswana at large.”

“All said and done, we ought to question the Strive Masiyiwa transaction with MTN and Mascom.  Bad experiences unfortunately give us reason to doubt the integrity of the transaction.  “I won’t be surprised in a few years down the line we find that there were some within government that were stoking the fire at Mascom.  “Watch the space”, signed off the analyst. Contacted for comment, Molefe refused to go in detail with the deal saying it was confidential, “safe to say MTN approached them with information that they intend to sell their shares.”

BPOPF PUSHES FOR 73%

But it has since surfaced that BPOPF has taken a hardline approach to the issue and wants to own 73% stake in Mascom. BPOPF is of the view that the proposed transaction by Econet will result in change of controller hence they must be a choice to exercise their pre-emptive rights as the shareholders agreement. Masiyiwa is said to have raised an unsolicited offer to buy the shares currently held by MTN.

It is said that the parties involved in this proposed transaction do not agree with the interpretation of clause 12 of the shareholders agreement that deals with sale of shares and change of controller. The regulator, Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) is said to have demanded certain information from Mascom but it is not forthcoming because the parties cannot agree on its release. The Mascom Board, which is made up of three BPOPF representatives and three MTN representatives is expected to meet to discuss the matter, but a stalemate is projected.

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Choppies back to profitability

21st September 2021
Choppies CEO - RamachandaranOttapathu

Choppies Holdings Limited, Botswana’s largest Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) retail group, is back to its glory days of profitability.

On Wednesday, Choppies signalled its shareholders in a circular published on the Botswana Stock Exchange website that a massive comeback is in the offing. The retail giant, which trades on both Botswana and Johannesburg Stock Exchange, notified its investors that it is currently finalising its financial results for the 12 months ended 30 June 2021 (FY2021).

As per the Listings Requirements of the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange Limited (JSE), that requires companies to publish a trading statement as soon as they become reasonably certain that the financial results for the period to be reported on next will differ by more than 10% (in the case of the BSE) or more than 20% (in the case of the JSE) from the financial results reported for the previous corresponding period, Choppies notified the market about the expected financials.

In the circular, Choppies said it expects the consolidated Profit after Tax, including discontinued operations for the period FY2021, to be between 106% to 126% better than the Loss after Tax of BWP 370.6 million reported for the period FY2020, representing a Profit after Tax of between BWP 22.6 million and BWP 96.7 million.

The Profit before Tax for FY2021 is expected to be between 1% and 21% higher (BWP 105.7 million and BWP 126.7million) than the Profit before Tax of BWP 105.0 million reported for the period FY2020. The Choppies come back is against the backdrop of a devastating past three(3) financial years where the company endured some of the worst headwinds ever since its establishment over two decades ago.

Following reports of internal boardroom wars, the crisis exploded to fireworks. The retail giant was suspended on both Botswana and Johannesburg Stock Exchange for failing to publish its audited financials as per the regulatory requirement for all publicly listed companies. Following suspension from trading, Choppies’s value deteriorated to record low levels, triggering massive governance restructuring before reconfiguring its portfolio, divesting and exiting some markets, retreating to regroup in its spiritual home ground of Botswana.

In the process, the retailer stayed on news headlines for all the wrong reasons, boardroom infighting, shareholder tussles and disagreements between founders and back to back conflicts with its external auditors. At some point, Choppies founder, Chief Executive Officer and talisman, Ramachandran Ottapathu, was suspended and later reinstated in a dramatic turn of events. Furthermore, the fallout saw the longest-serving Chairperson, former President Dr Festus Mogae, resign as board chair.

The delayed 2018 year-end financial results, released a year and a half later in December 2019, delivered a shock to shareholders, with many pundits announcing Choppies’s funeral. Choppies registered a whooping BWP 445 million loss for the full year ended June 2018. Another shocking loss of BWP170 million for 2017 was initially reported as a BWP 74. 6 million profit when KPMG was still the auditor.

The Choppies loss-making crusade spilt over to 2019, registering in loss BWO 428 million before drowning again into a loss of BWP 370.6 million for the full financial year ended June 2020. In July this year, Choppies biggest individual shareholders Ramachandran Ottapathu and Farouk Ismail, revealed they would be levelling a lawsuit against former Choppies auditors Price Water Coopers (PWC).

The duo blames the auditors for alleged lapses, incompetence, and deliberate sabotage that led to the company’s regulatory non-compliance and subsequent suspension from the Botswana Stock Exchange in 2018 and a massive deterioration in value. In the Annual Report for the financial year ended June 2020, released in November that year, newly appointed Board Chair Uttun Corea announced that Choppies had appointed new auditors, Mazars, regarding FY19 and FY20.

The new board further announced a massive reconfiguration strategy to return the company to glory. The Board Investment Committee recommended disposal of loss-making operations in South Africa and the closure of operations in Mozambique, Kenya and Tanzania, which according to Mr Corea, helped return the Group to profitability.

“Our other markets also proved economically challenging with a struggling and volatile Zimbabwean economy, currency devaluation in Zambia, and a lack of economies of scale in Namibia. However, we believe a focused approach in these regions and the numerous opportunities for growth in Botswana present the Group with solid prospects.

This conditions, together with the favourable conditions following the introduction of funds by the founding shareholders, together with additional security, and given the renegotiation of our banking facilities which will see our monthly payments lower, put the Group on a firm going concern footing,” the board Chair said last year.

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Cresta Marakanelo exits Zambia market 

21st September 2021
Cresta Marakanelo

Cresta Marakanelo Limited (CML), Botswana’s most prominent hotels and hospitality group, has decided to exit the Zambian market, the company announced on Wednesday. 

CML, a Botswana version of the larger Southern African Cresta Hotels Group, revealed in a circular to its shareholders on Wednesday that “it will not be renewing the lease agreement with Golfview Hotels Limited for the rental of Cresta Golfview Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia.” The Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed hotels group explained it would be withdrawing from the Cresta Golfview Hotel operations on 30 September 2021.

CML explained in the circular that for continuity of operations, the landlord, Golfview Hotels Limited, will be taking over the management of the hotel and will endeavour to absorb the majority of the staff.

“The consideration to not renew the lease came after a review of the financial viability of continuing with the lease agreement. The decision to exit the lease is therefore in the best interests of CML shareholders,” Cresta Marakanelo Board explained on Wednesday.

For the year ended 31 December 2020, Cresta Golfview Hotel accounted for 5% of the CML Group’s revenue and 2% of the Group’s loss before tax. The company said it would continue to operate the 11 hotels in Botswana.

The Board of Directors of Cresta Marakanelo went on express gratitude to its dedicated staff at Cresta Golfview Hotel, “The men and women who personified our Cresta brand essence; Where One Smile Starts Another and lived our Cresta mantra of Hospitality with African Heart and Soul consistently over the years.” The Board further thanked its business partners in Zambia: the valued guests, suppliers, stakeholders, and the Zambian community at large during the time CML has operated in Lusaka.

“We look forward to welcoming you to our other properties under the CML portfolio,” the statement said. Early this year, Cresta Marakanelo attempted to expand its Botswana footprint, nearly taking in Phakalane Golf Estate & Hotels Property under its wing. In January 2021, Cresta Marakanelo announced that it had signed a 10-year lease agreement for the hotel and the golf course, located in the Gaborone high-end suburbs, with an option to renew for a further ten year period.

In addition, Cresta had planned to pay Phakalane P10.7 million as a once-off for moveable assets, including furniture, fittings and equipment, with the amount payable over 24 months. Two months later, CML directors told shareholders that the conditions necessary to finalise the deal had not been fulfilled, and as a result, the transaction could not materialise.

Cresta Marakanelo is the operating company for, until this Zambia exit, the 12 Cresta Hotels in Botswana and Zambia. The company was formed in 1987 with an initial portfolio of fewer than 290 rooms, and until this September end exit, Cresta Marakanelo has been managing over 1000 rooms in Botswana and Zambia.

Since its establishment, Cresta Marakanelo Limited (CML) has maintained its position as the largest hotel group in Botswana. The company was established in 1987 when Cresta Hospitality was awarded the Management contract for the Marakanelo Hotels in Botswana by the Botswana Development Corporation.

Cresta Marakanelo was listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange in 2010. Its largest shareholders are the Botswana Government, through the Botswana Development Company, at 30 percent and Cresta Holdings Botswana at around 29 percent, with other shareholders being Motor Vehicles Accident Fund Botswana, Botswana Insurance Company, amongst others.

Established in 1970, the Botswana Development Company is the investment arm of the Botswana Government. BDC’s main aim is to be the country’s principal agency for commercial and industrial development. The Government of Botswana owns 100 percent of the issued share capital of the Corporation. BDC has interests in industry, property development and management, agribusiness and services.

Cresta Holdings Botswana is ultimately owned by Masawara Plc, a Jersey Registered Company listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market, with an investment portfolio that extends from Botswana to Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Group’s portfolio spans the Hospitality, Insurance, Investment Management and Agrochemical sectors.

Its hospitality arm, Cresta Hospitality Holdings, is one of Southern Africa’s largest hotel management groups, managing or operating hotels in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.  Cresta Hospitality started hotel operations as far back as 1958. Cresta Holdings is a hotel management company registered in Botswana.

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ABSA posts improved results  

21st September 2021
Keabetswe Pheko-Moshagane

Absa Bank Botswana released their condensed consolidated interim financial statements for the period ended 30 June 2021. Profit before tax grew significantly by 125% against the previous year, a material recovery from the June 2020 position.

According to the company directors, the performance was driven mainly by the positive performance of the impairment line together with the positive momentum on cost lines. Pre-provision profit has also grown year on year by 9%.

Consequently, the bank’s Return on Equity (ROE) went up to 19%. Total revenue declined 1% year-on-year. Net interest income fell 8% due to margin compression driven by interest rate cuts in 2020. However, the sales and transactional banking franchise realised impressive recovery rates with volumes going up to almost pre-COVID-19 levels, and fee revenue grew 20% year on year.

Absa boasted that their operating costs remain well contained, on a reducing trend compared to the prior year. On a statutory basis, operating expenses totalled P460 million, representing a 7% decrease year-on-year. This was achieved by an overall reduction in spending as the bank continues to leverage on a leaner, rotational and digitally-led operating model.

Costs in the current year have benefited from the absence of the Voluntary Staff Separation exercise that happened in the first half of 2020, together with a significant reduction in separation expenses as the rebranding exercise has been completed. Cost-to- income ratio declined 4% and ended at 58% for the period under review. On a year-on-year basis, our credit losses decreased materially by 74%.

This significant drop was driven primarily by the better-than-expected performance of the macroeconomic variables, predominantly GDP, which carries a higher weighting in the bank risk models. With improved and stable portfolio performance, the loan loss rate improved to less than 1% for the period ended 30 June 2021.

Absa balance sheet continued on its growth trajectory with an overall growth of 14%. Customer loans and deposits remained key. components of the balance sheet and the key drivers of balance sheet growth. The balance sheet position remains solid at a total financial position of P21.5 billion. Customer loans grew by 9% year-on-year to P14.8 billion.

“We have seen increased momentum in our loan conversion rates, especially in RBB where growth was driven by scheme loans, mortgage loans and Enterprise Supply-chain Development (ESD) loans,” the bank said in a commentary that accompanied the financials.

Directors explained that growth is in line with their strategy to continue to lend a hand to the bank customers who need support during this period and support the initiatives around citizen economic empowerment and economic diversification. Customer deposits have registered good momentum growing 15% compared to last year, reaching P16 billion as of 30 June 2021.

“Although we have seen tightening liquidity in the market, our client penetration, acquisition and retention strategy has borne much fruit, especially in our CIB segment. We have noted a stable upward trend in our deposit book, a momentum which is expected to last into the rest of the months of 2021,” Directors observed.

Directors further noted that the solid balance sheet position and recovery in profitability had further strengthened the bank’s capital position, which stands at P2.9 billion and represents a capital adequacy ratio of 18% against a regulatory requirement of 12.5%. The liquid assets ratio stood at 14.6%, well above a regulatory limit of 10%.

Zooming deep into segmental performances, corporate and Investment Banking (CIB)closed off the first half of 2021 with a year-on-year decline of 3% on total income; this is on the back of the slow recovery in economic activity felt in crucial economic sectors which have previously contributed positively to revenue.

Business sentiment and confidence remain subdued even in 2021 as uncertainty continues due to the impact of COVID-19. However, the profitability of CIB is on the move, on an upward trajectory with 36% growth year-on-year. This performance was supported by the non-funded income lines’ resilience and the impairment lines’ performance.

For the Retail Banking segment the first half of the year, both loans and advances and deposits due to customers grew by 14% and 16% year-on-year, respectively. Overall revenue has remained flat year-on-year. Growth was realised from non-interest income. This is in line with the bank’s strategy to become the go-to transactional and digitally-led bank.

In the future, Absa directors noted the volatile, unpredictable environment that continues to prevail due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which comes with new waves of infections and variants, restricted movement and trade.

” However, we remain resolute in executing our refreshed strategy and focus on offering our employees and customers support in collaboration with the various stakeholders that we have partnered with.

As part of our strategy to provide customer-centric transactional banking solutions, we will continue to roll out enhancements to our existing digital platforms and develop new solutions that offer our customers convenience and safety.” For the period, Absa Bank Botswana Limited Board approved an interim dividend of 9.74 thebe per share, amounting to a total dividend of P83 million.

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