$3.9b fine: MTN shares slump as FG suspends talks

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MTN shares fell after Nigeria suspended talks about a $3.9 billion fine on the South African mobile-phone company while the country’s House of Representatives completes an investigation into the nature of the penalty.

The stock declined 2.6 per cent, the most since May 12, to R125 as of 9.32am in Johannesburg, valuing the company at R231 billion ($14.8 billion). The shares have plunged almost 35 per cent since the fine, originally set at $5.2 billion, was levied in October.

“Any delays in finding a resolution for the MTN fine will play into trading and keep MTN’s share price suppressed,” Peter Takaendesa, an analyst at Mergence Investment Managers, said by phone from Cape Town yesterday. “The big event to watch this week will be MTN’s annual general meeting, where the market might also get additional clarity,” he added.

Nigeria’s decision to put talks on hold will frustrate Johannesburg-based MTN as it seeks to resolve a fine that was levied for missing a deadline to disconnect customers deemed unregistered in the country, which is battling an Islamist insurgency. The company’s stock decline has cost MTN the title of Africa’s biggest wireless company by market capitalisation, losing it to crosstown rival Vodacom.

The Nigerian lawmakers “have set up a committee to investigate the MTN saga and they are still on it,” Victor Oluwadamilare, speciall assistant (media) to Communications Technology Minister, Barr Adebayo Shittu, said by phone from Abuja at the weekend. “Until they are through with it, nothing can be done,” he added.

Executive Chairman Phuthuma Nhleko returned to the helm in November for a six-month term to resolve the crisis, yet he remains in charge having not fulfilled his mandate. He will address shareholders at the annual meeting in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

He said: “The Federal Government, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Ministry of Communications can do nothing about the MTN case until the committee concludes its thorough investigation. There’s no point dealing with a particular organisation from different fronts. It would be counter-productive.”

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