Russia's MegaFon reports strong set of results as telecoms price war breaks out

Russia's MegaFon reports strong set of results as telecoms price war breaks out
Russia's leading mobile phone companies started a price war this summer
By bne IntelliNews August 17, 2018

MegaFon reported a strong set of results on August 16, supported by the unfolding effect of a price war that broke out in the summer and during the World Cup.

The company deconsolidated its accounts from Group following the completion of the transaction to create a JV on June 9. It reported the stand-alone results. Revenues increased by 5.1% y/y to RUB81.94bn, driven by both the wireless (+4.6%) and wireline (+21.8%) segments, Sberbank CIB said in a note.

Equipment sales continued to decline (-7.3%) as a result of the shrinking proprietary retail store network. EBITDA (based on the new IFRS standards) was a positive surprise, up 5.5% to R32.3mn. Net income increased by 11.5% to R6.1bn. Capex for the second quarter of 2018 was R16.2bn, or 19.7% of revenues. Net debt was R214.7bn as of June 30, Sberbank reported. Guidance was reiterated for flat revenues and R75-80bn in capex in 2018.

Megafon’s results were also affected by a price war that broke out this summer between the leading players in the market. In mid-June, MegaFon reduced prices by 33-67% in 17 regions, which provoked a response from rival Tele2 in early August. Then this week MTS entered the fray by offering unlimited mobile data, which has already garnered a response by VEON that operates under the Beeline brand.

“We would not go so far as to call what is happening a 'price war,' given the limited risks to blended ARPU at this stage. But it is certainly a continuation of the highly competitive pricing environment. MegaFon and Tele2 still have the opportunity to reshuffle mobile prices, including in another 50+ regions of Russia. MTS, with its new unlimited mobile data plan, is aiming to increase ARPU and is de facto simplifying the structure of its tariffs,” Sberbank CIB said in a note.

Data overtook voice as the main source of revenue earnings several years ago and given that there is no network neutrality regulation in Russia, operators can be flexible with costs, thus limiting the negative effect on earnings.

But competition between the leading companies in what is probably Russia’s most modern and sophisticated sector remains tough – and especially between the incumbent MegaFon and the new kid on the block Tele2.

In mid-June, MegaFon initiated a promo called "a blow to prices" in 17 regions where Tele2 has traditionally had a strong position, reducing prices by 33-67%.

“For example, in Kurgan Region, MegaFon's entry-level bundle is now priced at RUB140/month ($2 or a 53% reduction in tariffs) and includes 300 voice minutes, 20 GB of mobile data, free traffic for VK Music and MegaFon TV. In early August, Tele2 responded by reshuffling tariffs in these 17 regions plus 13 others. In Kurgan Region, Tele2 offers 20 GB and 600 voice minutes for RUB140/month, including free traffic for social networks and messengers,” Sberbank comments.

“New 'Tariffische' plan by MTS with unlimited mobile data started August 14. In Moscow, on top of unlimited data, users get 500 minutes for RUB650/month and 800 minutes for R800/month. We think MTS is aiming to increase ARPU and is de facto simplifying its tariff structure,” Sberbank added.

The market leader MTS has also responded with a simplified data offering that feature generous data offers but has a complicated tariff structure.

“For example, in Moscow, MegaFon offers 600 minutes and 15 GB for RUB600/month, while unlimited data traffic is included for music, messengers, social networks and MFON TV. The offer for RUB750/month is even more generous: 750 minutes, 20 GB, unlimited traffic for music, messengers, social networks and video. We think that high data allowances in such tariff plans already bring them close to unlimited data consumption patterns. So what MTS has done has simplified its tariff structure by offering 'pure' unlimited data,” says Sberbank.