MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest wireless carrier, says Mastercard has agreed to take a minority stake in its financial-technology (fintech) business, which the company values at $5.2 billion.
“Signing of the definitive investment agreements is expected to occur in the very near term,” MTN Chief Executive Officer Ralph Mupita said in a statement on Monday.
Africa’s young, tech-savvy population are increasingly using their mobile phones to bridge gaps in services including banking. That’s opened a lucrative and fast-growing space in the fintech sector for wireless carriers. Much of the attention to date has been on mobile-payment systems, with a wave of fast-growing startups such as Flutterwave Inc. and Interswitch Ltd. emerging in the industry.
Shares in MTN rose as much as 9.5% in Johannesburg. The valuation is strong given the fund-raising difficulties many technology start-ups are facing and the fact that Mastercard won’t receive a controlling stake, according to Peter Takaendesa, the head of equities at Mergence Investment Managers in Cape Town.
MTN rivals including Airtel Africa Plc, Nairobi-based Safaricom Plc and South Africa’s Vodacom Group Ltd. are all at various stages of transforming from basic voice and text mobile use to digitalization, with a broad aim of separating and monetizing the businesses in the longer term.
Airtel has already brought in Mastercard as an investor in its mobile-money unit. India’s Jio Platforms Ltd., the digital arm of billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd., set an earlier precedent by attracting capital from Facebook Inc. and Silver Lake Partners in 2020.
MTN has said previously it plans to raise 25 billion rand ($1.3 billion) from asset sales. Its most recent disposals include the sale and lease-back of its South African mobile-phone towers and a plan to sell some of its West African assets.
It also has a stake in New York-listed tower owner IHS Holding Ltd. that it may sell down, although the tower firm’s low trading prices and a dispute with its management has delayed any sale in the near-term.
According to Bloomberg Intelligence,
“Mastercard’s planned minority investment in MTN mobile money, at an EV of $5.2 billion, equates to 16x trailing Ebitda — well above Airtel Africa’s equivalent 10x.
“As well as boosting MTN’s see-through valuation, the cash could help the company’s balance sheet, temporarily substituting for dividends from subsidiaries and partly offsetting increased 2023 capital-spending guidance — both affected by forex.”