Singtel to unlock value of infrastructure assets, posts 93% lower H2 net profit

Michelle Zhu
Published Thu, May 27, 2021 · 08:43 AM

Z74 on Thursday announced a strategic reset that includes unlocking the value of its infrastructure asset portfolio which consists of towers, satellites, subsea cables and data centres following a strategic review of its two key business units.

In a media call on Thursday morning following its results release, Singtel group chief executive Yuen Kuan Moon said that the review of the telco's entire asset portfolio is done with the primary motives in mind: to bridge the valuation gap between individual assets and the integrated telco assets, as well as to monetise assets that are not aligned with, or may be less important to the group's vision.

Overall, analysts have taken positively to the refreshed move from Singtel. DBS analyst Sachin Mittal called it "long overdue", and said it is a good sign that "under the new CEO, he is trying to move very fast ... Since January, we have seen so many things".

Mr Mittal estimated that these infrastructure assets could be worth about S$5-6 billion. On top of ensuring that the core business undervaluation is addressed, it is also "imperative that they get some strategic investors" who can improve utilisation of these assets.

The telco has already begun a partial sale via auction of Optus' towers in Australia to maximise proceeds from the sale, said Singtel in its filing, and said the group seeks to "more actively recycle" its assets.

Mr Yuen noted in the call that "while we are looking at divesting the towers, we are also looking at what is core and important to the operating company.


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"Mobile operators always look at balancing both the divestment as well as protecting strategic assets and ensuring that we continue to have access to (these strategic assets), and ensuring that our needs for growth in coverage is not going to be compromised with the divestment of such assets. So the two are not mutually exclusive."

Janice Chong, Fitch Rating’s senior director of Asia-Pacific corporate ratings, said that monetisation of non-core assets such as telecom towers and data centres are part of global trends for telcos to fund their capital expenditure investments.   For instance, in the data centre space, Australian telco Telstra had sold a data centre in Melbourne to Centuria Industrial real estate investment trust last August for more than A$400 million (S$410.22 million), and leased it back for an initial period of 30 years.   “Overall, it clearly points that they are taking a more pragmatic investment approach,” said Ms Chong, adding that while Singtel had, in the past, tended to take a majority stake or full ownership in these investments, “right now, they are sort of reassessing their capital allocation approach, and basically spreading their resources to growth areas, which  include developing strategic partnerships ”.   Past narratives could also re-emerge. Some years ago, Singtel had also sought a sale of the satellite division of Optus, following a strategic review of the asset in March 2013.

Other aspects of the group's new strategic direction include plans to leverage its 5G leadership to reinvigorate its core consumer and enterprise businesses, and develop new growth engines in ICT (information and communications technology) and digital services.

In what Mr Yuen touts as significant consumer-focused initiatives, Singtel hopes to capture the "digital Asean growth opportunity", and aims to "create multi-local digital ecosystems in each market".

For instance, Singtel had entered into a joint venture with Grab for the digital full bank licence awarded by the Monetary Authority of Singapore last year, and has a presence in various digital payment systems across the region, among other things.

"We will look to scale aggressively and rapidly, and are open to taking significant minority stakes with complementary digital natives to achieve this," said Mr Yuen.

He noted that individually, while "each application and service may not be profitable today, but collectively combined into the ecosystem, it could be a much more compelling value proposition for our customers".

News of the strategic reset came on the same day Singtel reported a 92.7 per cent decline in H2 net profit of S$87.6 million from S$1.2 billion in H2 FY2020.  

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) for the half year fell 12 per cent to S$1.93 billion from S$2.20 billion the previous year. 

Group revenue for the half-year ended March 31, 2021 was down 1 per cent on-year at S$8.22 billion compared to S$8.28 billion previously.

The bottom-line drag came mainly from exceptional items of S$809 million post-tax, which included non-cash impairment charges for the group's investments in Amobee and Trustwave, for which Singtel says a strategic review is underway.

Rapid shifts in the fast-moving digital marketing and cybersecurity industries and economic shocks resulting from Covid-19 had curtailed both businesses' ability to scale, said the group in its results filing.

The exceptional charges for H2 were lower than the S$839 million Singtel said it was expecting in its profit warning issued earlier this month on May 14.

Singtel's Singapore consumer business recorded an 8.3 per cent decline year on year (y-o-y) in operating revenue for the half-year, mainly due to reduced roaming, prepaid mobile and voice revenues. The group said that roaming and prepaid services continued to be impacted by the drop in the number of tourists and foreign workers due to ongoing travel restrictions. Similarly, in the same period, its digital life's operating revenue fell 9.7 per cent y-o-y due to a reduction in Amobee's revenue and the deconsolidation of HOOQ from March 1, 2020.

Meanwhile, the operating revenue for its group enterprise segment in H2 remained stable y-o-y, amid the continued growth momentum from the information and communications technology sector. This was driven by higher systems integration and applications development projects from NCS, as well as increased data centre revenue boosted by demand for storage services. The increase had partly mitigated the decline in legacy voice and roaming revenues.

For the full year, net profit fell 49 per cent on-year to S$560 million from S$1 billion previously. Ebitda fell 16 per cent to S$3.83 billion from S$4.54 billion for FY2020.

Group revenue declined 5 per cent on-year to S$15.64 billion from S$16.54 billion for FY2020.

As at March 31, the group's net debt to Ebitda stood at 2.2 times, up from 1.99 times in the previous year.

Arthur Lang, Singtel's group chief financial officer, said that while the group has internal explicit targets that it wants to limit itself to in terms of its debt ratios, "the fundamental approach that we take is to always target an optimal capital structure that minimises overall cost of capital".

One way that the group focuses on in optimising its capital structure, he added, is to maintain its strong investment grade rating.

Singtel has proposed a final dividend per share (DPS) of 2.4 Singapore cents - bringing its total dividend per share to 7.5 cents, amounting to about S$1.23 billion.

This represents a payout ratio of 71 per cent of the group's underlying net profit for the year, which decreased 30 per cent to S$1.73 billion from S$2.46 billion for FY2020.

In a note on Thursday, Citi analysts Arthur Pineda and Hussaini Saifee said that the main area of disappointment could lie with the DPS, as Singtel "could have moved to pay back more especially with the (capital expenditure) and dividend income outlook into FY22 being relatively stable and in light of pending asset sale activities".

Nonetheless, the two maintain their "buy" call on the stock, as FY21 had been a "kitchen-sinking year coupled with the impact of the pandemic".

They added: "We see disappointments linked to earnings delivery and DPS to be mostly glossed over. Focus will lie on the new initiatives to be outlined by the company with a more distinct stance on asset monetisation and partnership models."

 Singtel shares ended 0.41 per cent lower at S$2.45 on Thursday, after its financial results were released.


  • Singtel's review of its digital units is long overdue
  • Singtel reviewing strategic options for its Thai units following bid for them


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