SingTel – Kim Eng

Margins to remain under pressure

Downgrade to Hold. We expect SingTel’s EBITDA margin to remain under pressure for the next few quarters as the telco focuses on building its mobile customer base aggressively in Singapore. While it expects long-term benefits, the costs related to its build-up of mobile device content, as well as subscriber acquisition and retention, are expected to stay high, thus eating into margins.

3Q12 results below expectations. SingTel’s 3QFY Mar12 results fell short of expectations, reflecting higher acquisition and retention costs on a strong mix of smartphones and tablets in Singapore and weak associate contributions. However, we had expected this, following similar trends in M1’s results. The only question was the extent of the damage to margins, which was quite severe in 3QFY Mar12, down to 32.7% from 34.5% in the previous quarter and 35.9% a year ago.

Margin decline to continue. SingTel has seen its EBITDA margin decline for four quarters now. However, there is likely to be further downside in the short term. In particular, management mentioned that it will step up its level of aggression to acquire smartphone and fibre customers as NGNBN rollout progresses. In the long run, it hopes to reap the benefits of upselling customers on a wider range of services but the short-term, impact on margins will be negative.

Older and wiser on BPL but… The better news is SingTel is unlikely to want to be perceived as Mister Moneybags again when bidding for the 2013-16 seasons of the BPL starting in March 2012. According to Mr Allen Lew, SingTel’s Singapore CEO, it will be “a bit wiser on this”. However, cross-carriage notwithstanding, management still views BPL as a key piece of content. Depending on the dynamics with the content owner, SingTel may not have a choice but to bid aggressively.

Lack of catalysts. While we do not expect any positive catalysts in the near future, we also do not anticipate any event that could pull the rug from below SingTel’s earnings, which should remain fairly resilient. We value SingTel at $2.95, or 13x FY Mar12 earnings, similar to the region’s integrated telcos as well as its own historical average PER.

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