By Duncan Miriri
NAIROBI, May 3 (Reuters) - Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest telecoms operator, said on Friday its core earnings for the full year rose 13.1 percent to 89.6 billion shillings ($889.33 million), driven by growth in its M-Pesa digital financial business.
Safaricom, which is partly owned by South Africa’s Vodacom and Britain’s Vodafone, said rapid growth in M-Pesa had offset a sharp slowdown in the growth of its internet access provision, data, business.
M-Pesa revenue jumped 19.2 percent to account for 31.2 percent of the company’s revenue of 240.3 billion shillings, Chief Financial Officer Sateesh Kamath told investors at a briefing.
It accounted for just 23.3 percent of annual revenue three years earlier and it is likely to account for more than half of revenue soon, said CEO Bob Collymore.
“We expect it to go past the 50 percent mark, probably in about three or four years but we are also looking at other revenue streams,” said Collymore citing efforts to boost revenue from digital services for farmers and e-commerce.
He also said Safaricom had no concerns about China’s Huawei , one of its top suppliers for the core transmission network and mobile money infrastructure, referring to Huawei’s recent problems in the U.S. market.
“Our policy as a company is not gonna be driven by Donald Trump. Donald Trump can drive some other stuff but we will make independent decisions,” he said.
“Do we think that Huawei is a very competent service provider? Yes absolutely. Do we have fights with them? Yes, but they have been a very competent and very close partner of ours over many years and I hope will continue to be so.”
Safaricom said revenue from its mobile data business grew by 6.4 percent, plunging from growth of 24 percent a year earlier.
CFO Kamath said the company had cut prices by close to half in response to squeezed consumer spending and absorbed some tax increases on data without passing them onto customers.
M-Pesa was launched more than a decade ago to offer Kenyans without bank accounts a network to transfer cash via mobile phones.
It now offers a range of payment services, loans and savings to more than 22.6 million people in Kenya and has been copied abroad.
Fuliza, an M-Pesa overdraft facility launched in January together with two local banks, has garnered 8.8 million users who have borrowed 45 billion shillings, Collymore said.
“This is just a glimpse into opportunities for growth in our enterprise business,” Collymore said.
The company, which is the most profitable in East Africa, said it expected EBIT to rise to 93-97 billion shillings in its financial year to the end of March 2020.
It boosted its dividend per share for the year to 1.25 shillings, and proposed a special dividend of 0.62 shillings.
The main risk facing the business was the management of a CEO succession as Collymore, who has served in the position for nine years, leaves in August, analysts said.
Collymore has chosen not to renew his contract for health reasons, sources told Reuters on Monday.
$1 = 100.7500 Kenyan shillings Editing by Jason Neely