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BTC gets ‘long term buy’ verdict

Motswedi Securities’ has released a thorough assessment of the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Limited (BTCL) issuing a Long Term Buy recommendation on BTCL at the current price.

The Research team at Motswedi Securities notes that the BTCL growth strategy is centred on leveraging its fixed, mobile and convergent products and services potential. He says the strategy is intended to leverage BTCL’s unique market position as the only fixed and mobile network operator in Botswana by creating competitive advantages for the company through the provision of traditional fixed and mobile broadband, information and content capabilities. It is interesting to note that BTCL is trading at a 35% discount to its NAV. (Current price – P1.47).

“With a PE of 6.8x against the market average of 16.9x and a PBv of 0.8, we still maintain a LONG TERM BUY recommendation on BTCL at the current price.”

WHERE IS THE GROWTH STORY?

According to the report BTCL has copper access network making it the only operator with the capacity to offer ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line Service). ADSL is a data communication service that enables faster data transmission over copper telephone services than convectional voice and modem can provide. BTCL could leverage on this competitive advantage by offering this ADSL product through its copper network, thereby increasing data sales.

Further the Motswedi Securities team notes that the Wider Network footprint and report that BTCL through its BeMobile unit has the widest mobile coverage particularly in remote areas because of its extensive mobile coverage. No other operator has assets deployed as widely across both fixed and mobile services space as BTCL. The mobile network can leverage on this extensive coverage to grow its market share. The researchers also recognize BTCL’s Strong brand recognition and perception, especially in the fixed line business.

The company’s Increased Market Share also speaks to the growth story. According to the report, the BeMobile business is less than 9 years old but already it has gained a notable market share of around 17% which is commendable in this environment dominated by two other giants.

“BTCL is the sole provider of fixed telephony, with this segment being the second driver of revenue, contributing 32%. It is interesting to note that the fixed telephony segment has shown a slight but constant growth over the years in terms of revenue and is expected to continue holding its ground in the short to midterm mainly due to increased usage from the corporate and the government. Having said this, we are equally aware of the decline of this business on a global scale on the long term.”

The Motswedi Securities team is convinced that the BTCL runs a highly profitable business with a strong dividend distribution. It notes that BTCL bounced backed into profitability with all the profitability ratios growing exponentially. The positive numbers are expected to continue going into the future. Further, the researchers point out that Product innovation is expected to continue improving due to the partnership with Vodafone, one of the world’s leading communications services providers. Another plus for BTCL is the fact that the government remains the majority shareholder with a 51% stake in BTCL:

“The government may consider reducing its stake in BTCL to inject both liquidity, innovation and management skills that would better serve the country, investors, the entity and all its stakeholders. This would allow the company the swiftness it needs to remain competitive and profitable. The government can have both control and strategic influence in order to effect social and public policy, while maintaining a minority shareholding, with special voting rights (class A shares). This also promotes better price discovery, improved market liquidity, strategic alliances and partnership, improved competition and a diversified shareholder base and all these will feed positively into BTCL bottom line.”

THE POSSIBLE CHALLENGES

The Motswedi Securities research team has not ignored the possible challenges to the BTCL beautiful story. They acknowledge that BTCL operates in a highly competitive and mature market with intense price competition. Tele density level is above 171% and the only way for BeMobile to expand its market share from the current 17% is to take away subscribers from other networks. This might be a tall order given that the other two giant mobile networks will certainly do anything to protect their territories.

Another factor is the increased competition in the telecoms sector within the country as a result of market liberalisation and this has led in some instances BTCL losing some of its key clients to competitors. The researchers further indicate that Liquid Telecom will also be launching a new telecoms network provider with extensive reach across Botswana soon.

“The business is a high volume business with profitability very sensitive to variation in margins. This is because, BoFinet determines the margins available to network operators and in some cases BTCL may not be able to pass on to the retailer any margin compression enforced by BoFinet and this will eat on margins and profitability,” write in the BTCL assessment report.

Expected decline in Fixed Telephone revenue in the future could also add to the downside of BTCL, they say. According to the Motswedi Securities researchers, the Regulatory risk still remain elevated. BOCRA has started implementing a Pricing Framework which seeks to align to cost, retail prices for mobile voice and mobile broadband.

“Implementation of the Framework has been phased over three years and has already began. The implementation has started with the removal of mobile Termination Rates and differences in prices between the off-net premiums (between networks) and on-net rates. This may impact negatively on revenue from the sector at large and by extension BTCL,” reads the report.

Meanwhile trading of the stock is currently restricted to citizens or wholly owned citizens companies. The Motswedi Securities team argue that this may impact on liquidity and price discovery. Further, they say, the government may consider Market Liberalisation and opening up the market to international investors so as to give BTCL a wider brand exposure and investor base.

STRONG FINANCIAL RESULTS

BTCL FY Financial results for the year ended 31 March 2017 showed a 9% growth in sales driven by growth in fixed, mobile and data sales. Mobile revenues increased by 5% and is the biggest contributor to total revenue at 37%, followed by Fixed Telephony Revenues at 32% and Data services revenue at 29%. “We expect the contribution of Fixed telephony to gradually decline in the future in preference of mobile phones which offers more convenience,” the Motswedi Securities researchers observe.

GP margins improved to 58% from 51%. Total cost were trimmed by 26%, while no impairment were recognised for the year following an impairment assessment exercise carried out at year end. EBITDA grew strongly by 40% to P369mn (FY16: P263mn) with EBITDA margin improving to 23% from 18%. PAT bounced back strongly into the positive territory at P237mn from a loss of P371mn the previous year and this also pushed the net profit margin to 15% from -25%.

“BTCL growth strategy is centred on leveraging its fixed, mobile and convergent products and services potential. The strategy is intended to leverage on BTCL’s unique market position as the only fixed and mobile network operator in Botswana by creating competitive advantages through the provision of traditional fixed and mobile broadband, information and content capabilities. It is interesting to note that BTCL is trading at a 35% discount to its NAV. (Current price – P1.47). With a PE of 6.8x against the market average of 16.9x and a PBv of 0.8, we still maintain a LONG TERM BUY recommendation on BTCL.”

TELECOMMUNICATION MARKET OVERVIEW

The telecommunications market is dominated by the three operators which operate under Public Telecommunications Operator (PTO) licence; namely: BTCL, Mascom and Orange Botswana. The other major player in the market is Botswana Fibre Networks (BoFiNet), which was issued with an interim licence to provide wholesale services beginning 1 April 2013. BoFiNet started offering services in October 2013.

In addition, Private Telecommunications Network Licences (PTNL) have been issued to entities to build private networks for internal business use. Although the PTO licence allows the operators to offer both mobile and fixed telephony services and products, the industry still has 3 players with Mascom and Orange offering mobile telephony services only including mobile Internet and value add services, while BTCL provides both the fixed and mobile telephony services. This includes data network services, providing access and connectivity.

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Business

Cresta cuts losses, pins recovery hopes on renewed travel sentiment 

20th October 2021
Cresta

Cresta Marakanelo Holidays Limited, Botswana’s leading hotel group, is battling the catastrophic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and its far-reaching implications. 

The tourism and travel business was by far one of the most hit economic sectors. The key to containing the COVID-19 pandemic was the significant curtailment of movement of the people to reduce the spread of the virus. On the flip side, this delivered a massive blow to the tourism and hospitality business, which largely relies on accommodating travellers.

This week, Cresta released their unaudited condensed consolidated financial results for the half-year period ended June 2021. The Group, which operates 11 hotels in Botswana, reported a significant reduction in losses owing to stringent cost-containment measures deployed by management to ensure the business doesn’t plunge deeper into the negative figures zone.

The Group’s registered a six-month loss before Taxation of P34.1 million, which was P8.4 million lower than the prior-year first six months period, which reported a loss of P42.5 million. Cresta says the COVID-19 headwinds continue to significantly affect the tourism and hospitality industry, and Cresta Marakanelo Limited was not an exception.

During the six months to June 2021, the Government of Botswana continued to implement a raft of measures imposed in December 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19. These measures, which include restrictions on inter-zonal travel, a ban on alcohol sales, and a limited number of conference guests, have had a direct effect on reducing the level of activity in hotels.

The resort town hotels, which ordinarily generate at least 50 percent of their business from incoming foreign travellers, were significantly affected by the lockdowns in the source countries and low travel sentiment even after the hard lockdown measures were lifted.  The first-quarter performance was low in line with the seasonality of the business. However, the performance was further slowed down by the pandemic induced low travel sentiment and pandemic mitigation controls in place.

The second quarter saw a rise in the performance of the business when compared to the first quarter, contributing 60% of the revenue generated for the six months ended 30 June 2021. The business enjoyed a steady month-on-month increase in revenues from January to June 2021.

Under the adverse operating conditions for the industry, Cresta Directors boast of the P8.4 million loss cut. This, according to a commentary alongside financials, was mainly driven by the cost reduction measures implemented, some of which will be continued in the long term, even after the pandemic has been contained.

Revenue for the period under review was P96.5 million, 4% (P3.3 million) higher than the same period last year. Earnings before interest, tax, and depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) achieved during the period was P2.2 million, an improvement on the prior year’s loss incurred of P2.5 million.

The reduced market base has seen a surge in price wars in the industry, a variable that further puts pressure on the company’s revenues. Cresta management noted that the Group would continue to focus on cost containment to ensure the business’s survival through this difficult pandemic season.

In a drive to reduce the operating leverage of the business to ensure the company continues to be a going concern, several measures were implemented, including the suspension of all non-critical capital expenditure projects and freeze on all discretionary expenditure. In addition, Cresta negotiated with staff, landlords and other strategic suppliers to reduce contractual obligations. Following these measures, Cresta was able to minimize the reduction in cash balances during the period.

From 31 December 2020, cash balances declined by P29.1 million for the six months to 30 June 2021, compared to a decline of P42.1 million during the same period in 2020 on largely the same level of revenue mirroring successful cash preservation.  In assessing the ability of the Group to continue as a going concern, management performed a sensitivity analysis on a 12-month cash flow forecast which the Board of Directors reviewed to their satisfaction.

A range of possible outcomes related to the COVID-19 pandemic were considered, and it was concluded that Cresta Marakanelo Limited would continue as a going concern. The single most significant assumption was that the business should make a turnaround for the better within 12 months period on the back of vaccination programmes both in the source market countries and locally.

Vaccination enhances travel sentiment for the market, and it is on its strength that most paid guests are opting to postpone their bookings rather than cancel altogether.  The company has also secured an additional working capital facility of P25 million. This will provide extra headroom while the business levels are low.

Based on the review of the Group’s cash flow forecasts, the Directors believe that the Group will have sufficient resources to continue to trade as a going concern for a period of at least 12 months from the date of approval of these financial statements and accordingly, the interim financial statements have been prepared on the going concern basis.

Last month Cresta announced that they had decided not to renew the lease for the Cresta Golfview Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia, which comes to an end on 31 January 2022. The landlord of the property will continue to run the hotel under a different brand, and preparations are currently underway for a smooth handover of the property, with the least possible impact to staff, suppliers and guests.

During the half-year, P11.7 million (2020: P25.8 million) was utilized in operating activities, primarily due to the subdued revenues. Net cash used in investing activities amounted to P2.5 million (2020: P14.4 million).

The reduction in cash outflow on investing activities was because of the capital expenditure freeze. With regards to financing activities, P15.2 million (2020: P4.1 million) was utilized, split between bank loan repayments of P3.7 million (2020: P1.5 million) and leasing hotel properties P11.5 million (2020: P11.6 million).

In the future, Cresta pins its full recovery hopes on the vaccination plan, which is envisioned to cultivate revived travel sentiment significantly. “As seen in other countries whose vaccination programmes were embraced by a significant part of the population, vaccination is expected to see the removal of conferencing restrictions, alcohol sale ban and lifting of travel restrictions,” the company said.

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Botswana possesses unexploited renewable energy 

20th October 2021
renewable-energy

The International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA) latest Renewables Readiness Assessment of Botswana has made it known that the country enjoys considerable renewable energy potential. Notably, solar, wind and bioenergy are more prevalent. However, these remain largely untapped, despite the country’s ambitious plans for integrating renewable energy into its energy system.

According to the report, Botswana’s total primary energy supply (TPES) is fossil-based and largely reliant on oil products and coal, complemented by biomass and waste energy. In the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) launched in December 2020, it was announced that renewable energy should account for at least 15% of the energy mix by 2030, whilst the country’s Vision 2036 calls for a 50% renewable energy contribution to the energy mix by March 2036. The ambitions are arguably aloof given the insufficient critical actions that could significantly impact the energy transition in Botswana.

Access to electricity stands at 65%, with 81% of urban areas illuminated and 28% of rural regions electrified. As of 2017, the country’s total energy supply of 2.9 million tonnes of oil equivalent consists of oil products (35%), coal (44%), (traditional) biofuels and waste (19%) and imported electricity (2%). The IRENA has established that electricity is mainly produced from coal or petroleum products imported from South Africa.

As is the case in most regions, Botswana’s power system is characterised by an unreliable power supply, lack of investment, poor maintenance, and high service costs. To meet its peak power demand, Botswana imports power from the Southern Africa Power Pool (SAPP) – mainly from South Africa – and when imports are not available, resorts to costly backup diesel power plants.

In 2013, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Clean Coal Centre found that Botswana has estimated coal resources of 40 gigatonnes (Gt) or 40 trillion Kg. In 2014, the only two measured coal reserves were Morupule and Mmamabula basins, with a capacity of 7.2 Gt. IRENA believes this abundant resource is underexploited as only a single coal mine, Morupule, is currently operating.

Already established, Botswana relies heavily on fossil fuels for its electricity generation. As shown by the country’s installed generating capacity of 893.3 megawatts (MW), comprising 600 MW from the coal-fired Morupule B, 132 MW from the also coal-burning Morupule A, 90 MW from Orapa power plant, which is a diesel peaking plant, 70 MW from Matshelagabedi power plant (diesel peaking plant) and 1.3 MW from Phakalane solar photovoltaic power plant, according to the then Ministry of Mining, Minerals, Energy and Water Resource (MMERW) in 2017, now under a new name.

IRENA posits that although the installed capacity can cover the country’s peak demand estimated at 610 MW, the Botswana Power Cooperation’s (BPC) interconnected system faces several challenges. According to the power parastatal, in 2017, Morupule A did not produce electricity and was closed down for refurbishment. It produced 25 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2018 but had to be shut down again to remedy defects identified during commissioning.

Morupule B has been running under capacity since its commissioning in 2013 due to plant breakdown and system failures. BPC is currently undertaking remediation, which is expected to be completed in 2023/24, with all units running 100% production.

As for the diesel power plants of Orapa, producing 90MW and Matshelagabedi’s 70MW, which are rented to Alstom, they were conceived to support peak load but are being used for regular electricity supply BPC reports. The Corporation’s two diesel power stations were not used during 2018 and remained on standby. The lack of capacity to satisfy electricity demand requires regular imports from surrounding countries.

Botswana relied on electricity imports to cover up to 94% of its demand until the progressive recovery of the Morupule B plant. IRENA noted that the share of electricity imports in total supply decreased to about 17%, or 594 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2018 from 1 297 GWh in 2017 due to lower demand from the mining sector.

BPC has been in a precarious financial state for many years due to high import costs, operational difficulties and inoperative assets and has been kept afloat by government subsidies.
Botswana has an exceptionally high rate of solar irradiation, making solar energy a promising renewable energy source in the country.

The semi-arid country has an estimated 3 200 hours of sunshine per year. According to a MMEWR study, the yearly solar resources from global horizontal irradiation (GHI) range from 2 050 to 2 920 kilowatts received in one hour by one square meter of a surface (kWh/m²). For comparison, these irradiation levels are similar to those in California, which is amongst the most competitive solar market today.

Botswana is also endowed with a range of bioenergy resources that could be used for energy production. Wood fuel remains the dominant cooking fuel for rural households, as 42% of the population relies on it. A 2016 World Bank study based on a government study from 2007 to assess biofuel production and use in Botswana revealed the potential for biodiesel production from Jatropha curcas and bioethanol from sweet sorghum and sugarcane crops.

The Central district presents the highest biodiesel potential from Jatropha production, while the North-West district’s bioethanol potential from sweet sorghum is mainly located in the Ngami sub-district. However, another study coordinated by IRENA found that Jatropha is not suitable to cultivate in Botswana, as 100% of the land is restricted due to protected areas, wetlands, existing agricultural lands or urban areas, as well as additional exclusion areas and other restrictions in terms of market access and water availability. Sugarcane crops were only viable if irrigated, and the extent of production could reach 9% of the land.

Furthermore, an analysis conducted by IRENA and United States-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) for the Africa Clean Energy Corridor depicts some suitable zones for wind turbine power deployment, which are mainly located in the southern part of Kgalagadi district near Tsabong and the Southern region, with a technical potential of up to 1.5 GW.

In the foreword of Botswana’s Renewables Readiness Assessment, the Minister for Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Lefoko Moagi, said the release of the report coincides with the recent adoption by Parliament of the Botswana National Energy Policy – a key, strategic instrument for the successful and economic development of the local energy sector.

A prominent objective of the Policy is to achieve a substantive penetration of new and renewable energy sources in the country’s energy mix; the goal is to attain adequate economic energy self-sufficiency and security, as well as to position Botswana to fulfil its vision of becoming a regional net exporter, especially in the electricity sector. Director-General for IRENA Francesco La Camera said Botswana possesses considerable potential for renewable energy development.

In the introduction of the assessment, La Camera stated that the report presents clear and practical steps to maximise the country’s use of renewables in driving sustainable economic growth for Botswana. The extensive document identifies the need to adopt a broader range of renewable energy technologies to diversify Botswana’s power generation away from coal, generate socio-economic value and fulfil the country’s environmental and climate commitments.

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Business

NAMDEB extends life of mine for land operations by up to 20 years

19th October 2021

Joint venture between De Beers and Government of Republic of Namibia announces new plan, supporting economic, commercial, employment and community benefit, following receipt of royalty relief Namdeb Diamond Corporation (Proprietary) Limited (‘Namdeb’), a 50:50 joint venture between De Beers Group and the Government of the Republic of Namibia, today announced the approval of a new long-term business plan that will extend the current life of mine for Namibia’s land-based operations as far as 2042.

Under the previous business plan, the land-based Namdeb operations would have come to the end of their life at the end of 2022 due to unsustainable economics. However, a series of positive engagements between the Namdeb management team and the Government of the Republic of Namibia has enabled the creation of a mutually beneficial new business plan that extends the life of mine by up to 20 years, delivering positive outcomes for the Namibian economy, the Namdeb business, employees, community partners and the wider diamond industry.

As part of the plan, the Government of the Republic of Namibia has offered Namdeb royalty relief from 2021 to 2025, with the royalty rate during this period reducing from 10% to 5%. This royalty relief has in turn underpinned an economically sustainable future for Namdeb via a life of mine extension that, through the additional taxes, dividends and royalties from the extended life of mine, is forecast to generate an additional fiscal contribution for Namibia of approximately N$40 billion. Meanwhile, the life of mine extension will also deliver ongoing employment for Namdeb’s existing employees, the creation of 600 additional jobs, ongoing benefits for community partners and approximately eight million carats of additional high value production.

Bruce Cleaver, CEO, De Beers Group, said: “Namdeb, a shining example of partnership, has a proud and unique place in Namibia’s economic history. This new business plan, forged by Namdeb management and enabled by the willingness of Government to find a solution in the best interest of Namibia, means that Namdeb’s future is now secure and the company is positioned to continue making a significant contribution to the Namibian economy, the socio-economic development of the Oranjemund community and the lives of Namdeb employees.” Hon. Tom Alweendo, Minister of Mines and Energy for the Government of the Republic of Namibia, said: “Mining remains the backbone of our economy and is one of the largest employment sectors within our country.

Government understood the fundamental impact of what the Namdeb mine closure at the end of 2022 would have had on Namibia. Therefore, it was imperative to safeguard this operation for the benefit of sustaining the life of mine for both the national economy as well as preserving employment for our people and the livelihoods of families that depend on it.”

Riaan Burger, CEO, Namdeb Diamond Corporation, said: “After more than a century of production, these operations were approaching the end of their life, but the creation of this new business plan means we can continue to deliver for Namibia for many years into the future. This is great news for the hardworking women and men of Namdeb, as well as for all our community partners who we are proud to have worked with over the years. We now look forward to starting a new chapter in Namdeb’s proud history.”

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