AmInvest Research retains neutral on telcos, keeps buy on Axiata

  • Analyst Reports
  • Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018

CIMB Research neutral on telco sector, Axiata top pick.

KUALA LUMPUR: AmInvestment Bank Research is retaining its neutral call for the Malaysian telcos due to the continued intense competition in both the mobile and fixed broadband market.

It said on Wednesday its only Buy is Axiata due to its low bargain FY18F enterprise value/earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EV/Ebitda) of five times, way below its two-year average of eight times versus Maxis' 13 times.

Regulatory overhang remains a key sector risk, highlighted by the Pakatan government’s commitment to resume the former government’s agenda to “double the speed at half the price”. 

The new MCMC chairman, Al-Ishsal Ishak, who was appointed on Oct 1 this year, has warned that he would ensure the government's objective to provide high-speed broadband nationwide is achieved with some operators likely to be reprimanded over regulatory breaches.

“Additionally, the government's intention to reduce Khazanah Nasional's holdings in government-linked companies (GLCs) casts shadows of a share overhang,” it said.

AmInvest Research said even though Telekom Malaysia’s (TM) 3Q2018 results showed a surprisingly resilient unifi ARPU, “we do not expect this segment to defy gravity with the almost 40% price cut in its 30Mbps plan to RM79/month, which was announced in early July and expected to be gradually implemented towards the end of this year”. 

As such, the research house expect customers' gradual migration towards the more affordable government-mandated plans to substantively cut TM's immediate earnings. 

With Maxis riding along with TM’s price cuts, we expect lower margins from fixed broadband, as forewarned by Time DotCom’s CEO despite registering a strong 3Q2018 performance.

As revenue growth increasingly faces headwinds, telcos are increasingly focused on higher value customers, optimising existing assets and drive cost efficiencies via lower tower rental reversion rates, single supplier sourcing for bulk discounts and digitalisation initiatives.

AmInvest Research said since the middle of 2018, few rivals have launched a comparable package to counter U Mobile’s prepaid GX30 which offers unlimited data with speeds up to 3Mbps for just RM30/month. 

Recall that U Mobile also launched postpaid GX50 which provides unlimited voice and data with speeds up to 5Mbps for RM50/month.

Digi has offered prepaid options starting at RM38/month which offers data quota at 5GB and unlimited data usage for 12 hours during the less busy period between noon and midnight. 

Prepaid options at RM30/month from Celcom offers 15GB data, Maxis only provides 1GB while Unifi’s Bebas prepaid plans have more flexible options which include data quotas with no time expiry.
Postpaid plans for Digi start at RM58/month for 10GB data, Celcom offers RM80/month for 20GB data and Maxis RM98/month for 30GB. 

However, Digi also offers unlimited voice and data plans via online registration at higher priced RM100/month for speeds of up to 10Mbps, similar to Unifi mobile’s unlimited voice and data plan at RM99/month.

“In our view, near- to medium-term revenue growth outlook remains weak given market forces are constantly driving ever more competitive marketing plans. As U Mobile and Unifi mobile wrestle for new customers on the unlimited mobile data arena, prospects will deteriorate for incremental service revenue accretions in the sector.

“Overall, 3Q2018 mobile subscribers declined 177,000 QoQ and 781,000 YoY to 32 million primarily in the prepaid segment amid tight competition and ongoing SIM consolidation. 

“Since the beginning of this year, Celcom registered the largest decline of 316,000 followed by Maxis’ 120,000. Digi managed to grow by 57,000 as postpaid accretion more than offset the prepaid loss. 

However, 9M2018 sector revenue was flattish as the decline in prepaid subscribers was offset by the higher value postpaid segment, which expanded by 155K,000 and 406K,000 YoT in 3Q2018 to 8.7 million.

AmInvest Research said Maxis remains revenue leader on postpaid strength. Digi pulled further ahead with its top subscriber market share at 37% vs. Maxis’ 34% while Celcom remained a distant third at 29%. 

Digi’s pole position since 1Q2016 stemmed largely from its continuing strength in the prepaid segment, underpinned by the migrant population, which lost the least subscribers. 

However, Maxis remains strongest in the postpaid segment with an ARPU and subscriber base which are 29% and 14% respectively higher than Digi’s.

“This places Maxis in the leading position for sector revenue with a 3Q2018 market share of 41% vs. Celcom’s 30% and Digi’s 29%.

“Sector can be derated on resumption of revenue declines given the tight competition amid a decreasing subscriber base.

“Besides the existing mobile wars, the fixed broadband segment under TM’s unifi, Maxis’ Home Fibre and Time dotCom faces daunting prospects of declining ARPUs amid the government’s plans to develop a data-intensive socio-economy.

“A sector re-rating requires catalysts for stronger revenue growth prospects demonstrated in subscriber, ARPU and margin expansions. 

“As the global landscape for rapid data trajectory is driven by lower price plans and increasingly expensive capex rollouts to provide wider fixed broadband and 4G capabilities, coverage and service quality, any significant organic revenue or margin growth improvement is unlikely over the next 12 months,” it said.
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