Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), Southeast Asia’s biggest telephone company, posted a better-than-expected quarterly net profit, helped by a one-off asset sale, and reiterated its forecast for low single-digit revenue growth and stable earnings this financial year.
SingTel, which owns Australia’s No.2 telecommunications firm, Optus, and holds large stakes in several regional mobile phone operators including India’s Bharti Airtel, has been struggling to grow profits as demand slows for its services. The Singapore dollar’s strength against most Asian currencies has also hurt earnings from overseas.
“The group delivered a resilient performance this quarter despite regional currency headwinds and operating challenges in India,” SingTel Group CEO Chua Sock Koong said on Tuesday.
Looking ahead, Chua said SingTel was trying to build growth platforms by buying and creating digital content, citing recent investments in California-based mobile advertising firm Amobee and websites eatability and hungrygowhere.
SingTel earned S$945 million ($758.8 million) in its fiscal first quarter ended June, up from S$916 million a year ago, helped by larger one-time gains and as higher earnings from Thailand and Indonesia offset a drop in contributions from Bharti Airtel.
The earnings beat the average estimate of S$923 million of four analysts polled by Reuters, some of whom had not expected a S$119 million gain from SingTel’s sale of its 4 per cent stake in Taiwan’s Far EasTone Telecommunications.
SingTel’s core net profit, which excludes one-time gains and charges, fell 2.6 per cent to S$850 million from S$873 million a year earlier, while free cash flow declined 21 per cent to S$725 million mainly from working capital changes and lower cash flow from Australian unit Optus.
SingTel shares were down 1.18 per cent to S$3.35, a drop some traders attributed to the firm’s weaker operating performance.
SingTel said Singapore and Australia, two markets where smartphone penetration is high by global standards, have seen “significant” increases in customers willing to try Android-powered phones.
Subsidies on phones running Google’s Android, such as those made by Samsung and HTC, tend to be lower than those for Apple’s iPhones.
SingTel said its outlook for revenue and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) for the financial year ending March 2013 could be affected by exchange rate movements.
In the April-June quarter, for example, SingTel’s net profit was hurt by the Australian dollar’s 3.1 per cent fall against the Singapore dollar from a year earlier. The Indian rupee declined 18.3 per cent against the Singapore dollar while the Indonesian rupiah dropped 5.9 per cent.
The Indian currency is currently trading around 44 rupees to the Singapore dollar, much weaker than the exchange rate of 40.8 SingTel had incorporated in its forecast for the financial year ending March 2013.
Justin Harper, head of research at IG Markets in Singapore, said Singapore telecommunication firms remain attractive investments because of their dividend yields of above 4.5 per cent, which appear resilient amid the economic downturn.
“SingTel benefits in that it is majority government-owned thanks to a 54 per cent ownership through Temasek. But what could drag SingTel down is Bharti, which continues to suffer setbacks, albeit in a tough and competitive market,” he added.
Bharti, India’s top telecommunications carrier and 32 per cent owned by SingTel, last week posted its tenth consecutive quarter of profit declines as cut-throat competition squeezed margins, sending its shares to their lowest level in two years.
But Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand’s top mobile phone operator, reported a 42 per cent rise in quarterly net profit due to higher revenue from both voice and data services. SingTel said Indonesia’s Telkomsel saw profit before tax grow 21 per cent in local currency terms as revenues grew across the board and depreciation and financing expenses fell, while Globe Telecom managed a 18 per cent increase in pretax profit helped by customer gains in mobile phones and broadband.