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$1.2bn Debt: Etisalat Loses 2.9 Million Subscribers

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  • $1.2bn Debt: Etisalat Loses 2.9 Million Subscribers

Etisalat Nigeria’s $1.2bn debt burden may have taken a toll on its operations as over 2.9 million subscribers left its network in six months.

One of Nigeria’s major telecommunications companies, Etisalat, lost over 2.9 million subscribers in the last two quarters, investigation has revealed.

Findings by our correspondent showed that as of September 2016, there were 22.5 million active subscribers on the network but the figure dropped to 20.8 million by December. This represents a loss of 1.7 million subscribers within three months.

The drop, thus, represents a loss of about N3.1bn potential revenue for Etisalat for the quarter, going by the industry’s average revenue of N1,830 per user, according to the quarterly subscriber operation data obtained from the Nigerian Communications Commission.

Similarly, in the first quarter of this year, the telco lost 1.2 million subscribers. This is also estimated to cost the telecoms company potential revenue of about N3.8bn.

Fact checks showed that between September last year and end of March, this year, Globacom increased its subscribers from 36.9 million to 37.3 million; Airtel grew from 34.1 million to 34.6 million but MTN dropped in subscriptions from 60.5 million to 60.3 million.

Observers conversant with Etisalat’s operations said the poor network investment, occasioned by $1.2bn debt to eight Nigerian banks, was adversely affecting the company’s ability to deliver quality service and impeding its expansion.

“As such, we are beginning to see an exodus of subscribers from Etisalat network to rival networks, most especially now that subscribers have options through the Mobile Number Portability,” a source conversant with the Etisalat’s operations said.

On the contrary, a former senior manager of a rival telco, MTN, disagreed that Etisalat’s quality services had disappeared because of the loan crisis and that subscribers were porting away due to poor services and reduced expansion.

She said, “It would rather be convenient to say that due to steps taken to pay the $1.21bn debt, it (Etisalat) currently doesn’t have the kind of cash flow for product development, product activation, promos and advertising, and other activities that should retain its customers at the bottom of the pyramid.

“The customers at the bottom of the pyramid are about 90 per cent and are those who don’t have any permanent loyalty to a particular telecoms company and are easily taken aback by small things like promos and advertising promises, bearing in mind that getting another SIM card costs just only N300.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity since she is no longer in the industry and would not want to be seen as working for a particular telecoms firm, said, “As a matter of fact, Etisalat has the best services – voice and data – in the country. Even when I worked in MTN until recently, most of us kept Etisalat as a second SIM card.”

Apart from owing eight local banks, it was also discovered that the company owed tower firm, IHS Nigeria.

This was made known by the IHS, which said that it had experienced instability in terms of timing of settlement of invoices with certain customers including Etisalat.

It should be recall that in 2014, the World Bank lent $200m to the London-based African tower manager, IHS, for the acquisition of about 2,100 tower sites from Etisalat Nigeria. Under this Master Lease Agreement, Etisalat sold its tower assets to the IHS, while the IHS leased it back in exchange for lease rentals.

The IHS also has an $800m bond, which is partly securitised from the cash flows of the Etisalat lease.

“We do experience volatility in terms of timing of settlement of invoices with certain customers. We have a strong relationship with Etisalat and it has continued to make some payments under our Master Lease Agreement.

“As of December 31, 2016, $8.5m was more than 120 days overdue from Etisalat. This amount represents less than 2.5 per cent of the expected proforma full-year combined revenue of the group for 2016,” a press statement from the company stated.

An analyst with JP Morgan, Zafar Nazim, said that it had downgraded the IHS bonds due 2021 because of Etisalat Nigeria as it was uncertain whether the company could keep up with the lease commitments.

Fitch Rating has said the IHS might experience delays in collecting payments from Etisalat Nigeria over the short term, but medium-term prospects should remain broadly intact.

“Should Etisalat Nigeria go into bankruptcy proceedings, we believe its creditors will want to maximise recovery prospects by continuing normal mobile network operations, which include payments to the IHS for use of its tower infrastructure,” it said in a statement.

But in an e-mail sent to our correspondent, the Vice-President, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs, Etisalat Nigeria, Ibrahim Dikko, said remarkable progress had been made to resolve the loan crisis.

His mail read, “We are optimistic that an agreement will be reached shortly and this will be communicated through the appropriate channels of the involved stakeholders.

“As a business, our immediate focus is to ensure that we not only sustain a positive performance, but that we are in a position to continue to grow the business, deliver excellent customer service and increase value to our stakeholders, which include our bankers.”

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Experts Predict Nigeria’s Free Trade Zones Could Generate More Than N11.11tn

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Economic experts are optimistic about the potential of Nigeria’s Free Trade Zones (FTZs) to boost the nation’s economy significantly.

According to recent analysis, these zones could generate more than the N11.11 trillion they have already remitted to the Federation Account as of October 2023.

The Director of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), Muda Yusuf, said the FTZs will help facilitate forex.

“Nigeria’s urgent need for foreign exchange necessitates leveraging our free zones to enhance non-oil export revenue and reduce dependency on crude oil earnings,” Yusuf stated.

He pointed out the success stories of other countries, notably Dubai, which has effectively utilized its free zones to generate foreign exchange and attract significant investments.

“Our free zones must strive to do more, as we are still heavily reliant on oil and gas for our foreign exchange earnings. Increased investment in these areas is crucial,” he added.

Supporting this perspective, the Managing Director of the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), Olufemi Ogunyemi, recently highlighted the economic contributions of the FTZs while addressing the Senate Committee on Industry, Trade, and Investment.

Ogunyemi noted that these zones have created substantial wealth for the states hosting them and generated significant revenue for various agencies.

“Agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service, the Immigration Services, and the Nigerian Ports Authority have seen revenues of N59.38 billion, N828.7 million, and N8.738 billion, respectively, while states have received N998 million in Pay As You Earn (PAYE) remittances,” Ogunyemi reported.

He also highlighted the broader impact of the FTZs, noting that as of the end of 2023, the 46 licensed zones had provided 38,429 direct jobs and an additional 172,930 indirect jobs.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) worth $491.8 million and local direct investment amounting to N1.15 trillion have flowed into these zones, with N1.62 trillion worth of cargo imported from 2019 to 2023, saving scarce foreign exchange.

David Adonri, Vice President of Highcap Securities Limited, praised NEPZA’s achievements, suggesting that the government use these successes to encourage more Nigerians to start manufacturing businesses within the FTZs.

“The remittances from the free trade zones are commendable and should be a marketing tool to attract more investments,” Adonri said.

However, some experts believe there is room for improvement. Professor Olusegun Ajibola of Babcock University argued that while the remittances are noteworthy, they are not yet at a level worth celebrating.

“The government needs to intensify efforts in revenue generation from these zones as they were established at a significant cost to the host states,” Ajibola remarked.

He called for a review of the 32-year-old NEPZA Act to address any challenges and enhance the performance of the FTZs.

As Nigeria continues to seek ways to diversify its economy and reduce reliance on oil, the FTZs present a promising avenue. With strategic investments and robust management, these zones could indeed surpass their current contributions, fostering economic growth and stability for the nation.

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Nigeria’s Dangote Refinery Breaks Into Asian Market with LSSR Shipment

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In a historic move, Dangote Refinery is set to ship low-sulfur straight-run fuel oil (LSSR) from Nigeria to Singapore this week, its entry into the Asian market.

This development represents a significant milestone for the refinery, which began operations in January following a $20 billion investment.

According to ship tracking data and market sources, the refinery will initiate a new trade route from Nigeria to Asia, a region that consistently demands low-sulfur fuel oil for ship refueling at Singapore, the world’s largest bunker hub.

The Glencore-chartered vessel, Front Brage, will deliver approximately 124,000 metric tons (787,400 barrels) of LSSR to Singapore, with the shipment expected to arrive on Wednesday.

The Dangote Refinery, with a processing capacity of up to 650,000 barrels of products per day, is poised to become the largest refinery in Africa and Europe once it reaches full capacity.

Since March, the refinery has increased its LSSR exports, primarily sending cargoes to the Americas and Europe, as reported by ship tracking data from Kpler and Vortexa.

“This first shipment to Asia marks a new chapter in Dangote Refinery’s expansion strategy,” said a market analyst. “Breaking into the Asian market underscores the refinery’s growing influence and its capability to meet diverse global fuel demands.”

Market sources suggest that the cargo was redirected to Asia due to weaker demand in Europe. Data from LSEG indicates that the east-west spread for front-month 0.5 percent LSFO, reflecting the price difference between these regions, stayed above $40 per ton this week.

Dangote’s LSSR cargoes are priced against Rotterdam’s 0.5 percent LSFO quotes on a free-on-board basis, although the specific pricing differential for this shipment was not disclosed by market sources.

This pioneering shipment is the beginning of a series of exports to Asia. Another LSSR shipment from the Dangote refinery, containing around 157,000 tons, is expected to reach Singapore in July aboard the vessel Stena Suede, based on ship tracking data.

LSSR is typically blended with other fuels to create low-sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) for bunkering or used as feedstock in various refinery processes.

This export initiative not only diversifies Dangote Refinery’s market reach but also enhances Nigeria’s position in the global energy market.

In February, Dangote began exporting oil products and started purchasing crude oil, mainly from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Ltd, in December 2023.

The refinery’s successful entry into the Asian market is anticipated to drive further growth and establish new trade relationships, reinforcing its status as a key player in the global oil industry.

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This landmark export not only demonstrates Dangote Refinery’s operational capabilities but also signals Nigeria’s expanding influence in the global energy sector. As the refinery continues to innovate and expand, it is well-positioned to meet the increasing global demand for cleaner, more efficient fuels.

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Nigerian Refiners Pursue Afreximbank Financing Amid $18bn Funding Plan

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Investors in Nigeria’s modular refineries are actively engaging with the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to secure a portion of the $18 billion fund earmarked by the bank for the development of refineries in Nigeria and other African nations.

This initiative follows the successful financial backing provided by Afreximbank to the $19 billion Dangote Petroleum Refinery, which has commenced production of refined petroleum products for both domestic use and export.

Sources within the modular refining sector confirmed that discussions are underway, with significant interest from Clairgold Refinery and Shinjin Petro Chemicals.

Both companies have initiated talks with Afreximbank officials to source funds for their refinery projects in Nigeria.

However, the modular refinery operators have expressed concerns regarding the feedstock supply for their plants, which is a critical guarantee required by financial institutions for funding.

The operators, represented by the Crude Oil Refinery Owners Association of Nigeria (CORAN), praised Afreximbank’s support for the Dangote Petroleum Refinery during its construction phase.

“We are in active discussions with Afreximbank, although no modular refinery has received financing from the bank yet,” said Eche Idoko, Publicity Secretary of CORAN. “Shinjin Petro Chemicals, which is constructing a 3,000 barrels per day plant, and Clairgold Modular Refineries are among those in talks with Afreximbank and the Bank of Industry. We are hopeful for positive outcomes.”

Afreximbank’s commitment to supporting refinery construction was reiterated at the 2024 Afreximbank annual meetings in Nassau, The Bahamas.

The bank’s president, Benedict Oramah, highlighted the strategic objective to refine 50% of Africa’s crude oil production within the continent.

Oramah emphasized the bank’s role in the successful financing of the Dangote refinery as a model for future projects.

“We are proud to be associated with these transformational projects, which demonstrate the critical role of African capital in financing our development,” Oramah stated. “Our broader strategy includes supporting the construction of a new refinery in Cabinda, Angola, and refurbishing the Port Harcourt refinery in Nigeria. Our goal is to ensure that at least 50% of the crude oil produced in the Gulf of Guinea is refined in Africa.”

Despite the optimism, modular refinery operators have identified several challenges in accessing these funds.

These include securing guarantees related to feedstock supply and completing necessary engineering designs.

“The issue of feedstock remains a significant hurdle, as financiers require assurances on this front,” Idoko noted. “We are optimistic that Afreximbank will address these concerns given their recent declaration to support modular refineries.”

The ongoing discussions come at a time when Nigeria is grappling with its highest inflation rate in 28 years, driven largely by food costs.

The economic strain is exacerbating poverty and reducing the purchasing power of the nation’s 231 million residents, 60% of whom are classified as multidimensionally poor.

Modular refineries, which require significantly less capital investment compared to traditional full-scale refineries, are seen as a viable solution to boost local refining capacity and reduce dependence on imported refined petroleum products.

However, the operators have raised alarms about systemic issues within the oil sector that impede in-country refining, echoing concerns voiced by Aliko Dangote regarding the influence of entrenched interests.

As negotiations with Afreximbank continue, the modular refinery operators remain cautiously optimistic, hoping that the bank’s support will pave the way for enhanced domestic refining capabilities and contribute to Nigeria’s economic resilience.

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