Mergers, Acquisitions and Financial Results

Mobile operator Cell C has confirmed that it is seeking approval from the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA) to sell 15% of its shares currently held by BEE consortium CellSaf.

According to the company's media relations manager, Happy Zondi, the transaction would reduce CellSaf's shareholding from 40%, leaving it with a 25% debt-free and unencumbered stake in Cell C. “This transaction allows CellSaf to realise the value in its investment in just over three years and also empowers the business to use its stake as collateral,” she says.

The 15% shareholding is expected to be sold to the newly formed Middle East-based group, Lanun Securities, for an undisclosed amount.

The country's third mobile operator, Cell C is controlled by holding firm 3C Telecommunications, which is 60% owned by Saudi Arabian company Saudi Oger, with the remaining 40% currently held by CellSaf. The company, which employs close to 2 000 staff and has assets of around R5 billion, claims that a debt-free – and therefore more focused – CellSaf could help the business to further grow its active subscriber base of more than two million subscribers.

“Cell C remains SA's most empowered mobile telecommunications company and the latest transaction is in line with the Department of Trade and Industry's draft broad-based BEE codes of good practice,” says Zondi. “The transaction is fully supported by CellSaf shareholders and is now awaiting approval from both ICASA and the Competition Commission.”

While Cell C claims to be the most empowered of the cellular operators, it is talking only in terms of equity ownership, without focusing on elements of broad-based economic empowerment, such as skills development, management and corporate social investment, which are areas where the other operators are ahead. However, a target of 30% equity shareholding by black firms is being mooted in the ICT charter.

Meanwhile, Cell C has postponed the issue of its high-yield bond after the downgrade of major U.S. automakers to speculative status rattled the market, a company executive said on Monday.

Jonathan Newman, head of the bond project, told Reuters the decision to postpone the sale had been made before it was priced and had followed a roadshow in the United States.

Cell C said in April it intended to issue A 625 million euro high-yield bond to repay some of its current debt. The deal was planned as a 7-year bond with a first claim, or lien, on the company's assets, and a 10-year senior subordinated bond.

"We have postponed plans to sell the bond," Newman said. "We did complete the roadshows and as far as the company was concerned, things went very well. Unfortunately the high-yield market came off in the process of the roadshow, with specific problems with the (U.S.) motor industry," he said.

Rating agency Standard & Poor's on Thursday downgraded General Motors and Ford to junk status.

"But we are ready to go and whenever the market improves we'll price them and sell. Unfortunately we cannot say when that will be," Newman said.

IT WEB and Reuters SA