Johannesburg - MTN Group [JSE:MTN]
posted a 20% rise in full-year profit on Wednesday and sharply lifted its dividend payment, as benefits from strong subscriber growth in emerging markets.
MTN, Africa's largest mobile phone operator, said adjusted headline earnings per share totalled 909.1 cents for the year to end-December compared with 754.3 cents a year earlier, at the top end of its own forecasts for an increase of between 18% and 23%.
Headline EPS is the main gauge of profit in South Africa, and excludes certain one-time items.
While mobile phone operators in fast-growing Africa avoided the brunt of the global economic crisis, they are faced with stiff competition and even swings in commodity prices, key to the health of some major African markets.
India's Bharti Airtel, in particular, has been ramping up pressure on competitors such as MTN through a price war.
MTN, which operates mobile phone networks across Africa and the Middle East, said its users grew 22% to 141.6 million. MTN Nigeria recorded a 25 percent rise in subscribers to 38.7 million and Iran users increased 28 percent to 29.7 million.
South Africa had growth of 17.3% to 18.8 million.
The group declared a final dividend of 349 cents per share, bringing its total dividend for the year to 500 cents. The company has said it aims to return more cash to shareholders as it sees fewer opportunities for acquisitions.
"Due to the limited number of (value accretive) opportunities, the board is confident that growth aspirations can be accommodated within the imperative of improved short term returns to shareholders," said outgoing chief executive officer Phuthuma Nhleko
, who is due to be replaced by chief operating officer Sifiso Dabengwa
MTN said its revenue rose 2.5% to R114.7bn.
Shares in the company have fallen 6% so far this year, underperforming a 1.9% rise in the JSE Top 40 index.