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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

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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Business

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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Business

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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