Acquisitions brighten Axiata outlook

“Other potential corporate exercises that may unlock values include tower asset and digital businesses listings,” says HLIB Research.

PETALING JAYA: The outlook for Axiata Group Bhd remains positive, supported by the improving momentum of the telco’s operating companies (OpCos).

Following an encouraging result, with its year-to-date core earnings exceeding market expectations, Axiata received an upgrade in the target prices for its shares.

Among the research houses that have raised their target prices for the counter are RHB Research, Hong Leong Investment Bank (HLIB) Research, MIDF Research and Kenanga Research.

Maintaining its “buy” call on Axiata, RHB Research raised its sum-of-parts (SOP)-based target price for the company to RM4.22 from RM3.73 previously.

“Axiata’s results for the nine months to September 2022 were a beat, supported by inorganic acquisitions. Looking forward, we see synergies from the domestic mobile merger as a key re-rating catalyst,” said RHB Research.

It noted that Axiata’s core nine-month earnings formed 88% of its forecast and 86% of consensus estimate for the full year.

HLIB Research reiterate “hold” on Axiata, with a higher SOP-derived target price of RM2.97, compared with RM2.81 previously, as a result of upward earnings revisions.

“While headline was in the red, nine-month core net profit of RM1.1bil (plus 18% year-on-year) beat expectations,” said HLIB Research.

“Except for Dialog (Sri Lanka) and Ncell (Nepal), all OpCos contributed positively along with Link Net (Indonesia) consolidation to the top line growth, which was filtered down to the stronger core earnings, partly aided by lower minority interest charge.”

“We like its regional exposures with focus on emerging countries that may deliver great growth potentials. While we are positive on the Celcom-Digi merger allowing Axiata to unlock values, regulatory (especially in Nepal) and economic (in Sri Lanka) risks are major concerns.

“Other potential corporate exercises that may unlock values include tower asset and digital businesses listings,” HLIB Research added.

MIDF Research, which maintained “buy” on Axiata, raised its target price to RM4.61 from RM4.59 previously, based on 16.3 times forward earnings.

Kenanga Research also ascribed a higher SOP-based target price of RM3.90, compared with RM3.65 previously, for Axiata, while maintaining its “buy” call on the counter.

Meanwhile, S&P Global Ratings noted Axiata’s recent spate of acquisitions would push its debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) to 2.7 times and 2.8 times in 2023 from 2.2 times in 2021.

The rating agency added that Axiata’s earnings quality was set to decline following the completion of the proposed merger between Celcom and Telenor’s controlled Bhd.

Expecting Axiata’s credit profile to weaken, S&P Global Ratings lowered its long-term issuer credit rating on the company to BBB from BBB+.

“We also lowered the long-term issue ratings on the company’s senior unsecured notes and sukuk to BBB,” said S&P Global Ratings. “We removed the ratings from CreditWatch, where we had placed them with negative implications on April 22, 2022,” it said.

S&P Global Ratings said the “stable” outlook reflects its expectation that Axiata would maintain a broadly stable operating performance and manage its leverage so that its debt-to-Ebitda ratio would remain between two to three times over the next 24 months.

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