South Africa's Vodacom looking for sub-Saharan acquisitions

JOHANNESBURG Mon Nov 12, 2012 10:16am EST

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Vodacom (VODJ.J) is looking for acquisitions in sub-Saharan Africa, a sign the South African mobile operator aims to be a bigger player in the fast-growing continent.

The unit of British operator Vodafone (VOD.L) also reported a 22 percent rise in first-half profit on Monday, helping its shares to a record high.

The dominant mobile operator in South Africa, Vodacom is dwarfed elsewhere in Africa by rival MTN Group (MTNJ.J). Keeping the current pace of growth will require a bigger African presence, Vodacom Chief Executive Shameel Joosub said.

"For us to sustain the growth going forward, we think we need to look at new opportunities," he said in a response to a question about potential acquisitions in Africa.

"Our African model is working ... and we're confident we can roll it out successfully."

He did not give details about a potential size or a preferred country for an acquisition.

Vodacom already has a presence in Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it has been locked in a longstanding dispute with its local partner.

International operations accounted for 18 percent of its revenue in the six months to end-September, up from 14 percent in the same period a year earlier.

By contrast, MTN makes 63 percent of its revenue outside South Africa. As well as MTN, Vodacom could face competition from India's Bharti Airtel (BRTI.NS), which also has an African presence.

"It's obviously good from a corporate perspective that management are looking to diversify their revenue," said Reuben Beelders, a portfolio manager at Gryphon Asset Management in Cape Town, adding that Africa was a competitive market.

DRC DISPUTE

Chief Executive Joosub signaled the company's changing attitude towards Africa following his appointment in September, saying Vodacom no longer had plans to exit the DRC and would try to resolve a year-old fees dispute.

Under previous Chief Executive Pieter Uys, Vodacom had looked to exit the business and had hired investment bank Rothschild to advise on a sale of its 51 percent stake.

Vodacom's partner in the DRC sued Vodacom in 2009 for $166 million, over interest rates and service fees charged by the South African company for nearly a decade.

Talks are still ongoing to resolve that dispute, Joosub said.

Revenue totaled 34.4 billion rand ($3.94 billion), up from 31.7 billion rand a year earlier. The number of "active customers" increased by 21 percent to 50.1 million.

Headline EPS, a measure of profit that excludes certain one-time items and is the benchmark in South Africa, rose 22 percent. The company raised its interim dividend by nearly 37 percent, to 355 cents.

Helped by the hefty dividend hike, shares in Vodacom rose more than 5 percent at one point in Johannesburg trade, to touch a record high of 116.99 rand.

As of 1235 GMT, the shares were up 4.6 percent at 115.99 rand. Shares in the company are up 30 percent so far this year, outperforming the benchmark Top-40 index .JTOPI and rival MTN, both of which are up around 16 percent. (Reporting by David Dolan; Editing by Richard Pullin and Helen Massy-Beresford)

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