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As predicted

May 05 2011 00:00 Simon Dingle

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The message from Vox Telecom [JSE:VOX] came early. Since 2009 it’s been warning the lowering of interconnection rates in South Africa – the fees network operators pay each other for connecting calls – would impact on its least-cost routing subsidiary Vox Orion. The company had a plan to develop new revenue streams and said there were some rough seas ahead. So we have to view Vox’s latest results in light of what it’s been telling us for the past two years.

Things have also been uncertain lately, with CEO Tony van Marken stepping down and a cautionary being renewed since the beginning of the year as the group’s board continues to conduct negotiations in something that will obviously be big news.

Results for the six months to end-February 2011 were a mixed bag. Gross profit rose 9% to R257m against the first half of 2010, and cash on hand increased by 15% to R122m when compared to the same period the year before. Profit before taxation and exceptional items was down 4% to R34m and headline earnings per share down 7% to just a bump over 2c/share.

However, Vox did pump R32m into its network over the period and says it continues to make good headway in converting Vox Orion customers on to its new Cristal Vox telecoms platform, where there’s a good opportunity for up-selling and improving margins. But the transition isn’t over yet and the payoff for the restructuring within Vox will only come later.

Though honesty from management in terms of operational concerns is something Vox shareholders appreciate, there’s still the uncertainty of it trading under cautionary conditions. We’re calling “hold” for now until things start to turn around from a profit perspective and we know more about the outcomes of ongoing negotiations. There’s still cause for optimism for value investors.
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