MTN plans sale and leaseback of South African tower portfolio

MTN Group Ltd is looking to sell and lease back part of its portfolio of 13,000 South African telecom towers, a sign that new chief executive Officer Ralph Mupita is looking to build on a disposal plan kicked off by his predecessor.

Africa’s biggest wireless carrier is considering “the strategic and financial merits” of the plan, Mupita said in an interview on Wednesday. The move would build on similar transactions MTN has completed in countries such as Ghana and Uganda, he said.

Under former CEO Rob Shuter, the Johannesburg-based wireless carrier kicked off a plan to raise 15 billion rand to help pay down debt, completing the project earlier this year. MTN then announced an intention to exit the Middle East region, with talks under way to sell its Syria operation.

The company recently generated about R2.3 billion from the long-awaited disposal of a minority stake in e-commerce group Jumia Technologies AG.

Mupita, the former chief financial officer, took over from Shuter on September 1.

International wireless carriers have been queuing up to sell tower assets in recent months to help realize cash, with funds needed for anything from debt repayments to developing 5G networks.

Vodafone Group Plc is considering raising about 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion) from an initial public offering of its European unit early next year, people familiar with the matter have said, while billionaire Li Ka-shing’s conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd agreed to sell towers to Spain’s Cellnex Telecom SA last month for 10 billion euros.

Deamand for additional masts is increasing in Africa to cope with the migration of millions of young people to smartphones and faster broadband. South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized nation, is in the process of rolling out 5G services.

Other potential sales for MTN include its interest in IHS Holding Ltd, Africa’s biggest tower operator, although plans for an initial public offering in New York have been pushed into next year, people familiar with the matter said last month.

Read: MTN appoints new chief financial officer

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MTN plans sale and leaseback of South African tower portfolio