Stable 2012 outlook,

But margins pressure exists

Defensive earnings, attractive yields

1QCY12 results were in line

All three telcos recently reported 1QCY12 results which were in line with our forecasts. M1 and SingTel earnings were either spot on or within 2% of our estimates. Although StarHub’s earnings were 13.2% above our forecast, we note that the boost came from higher NBN roll-out adoption grants and higher amortised income; but EBITDA margin of 32.2% was in line with our forecast.

Review of Singapore mobile operations

No change in status quo in the post-paid mobile market – SingTel dominated with a ~47% share, followed by StarHub ~28% and M1 ~26%. Overall, the post-paid subscriber base grew by 38k QoQ to 4067k, with the bulk coming from SingTel (+30k). However, the 0.9% growth was the slowest since Mar 09; and could continue to slow as users shift towards multi-SIM plans for their mobile devices from dongles. Data as a percentage of ARPU is hovering around 37-42%, up from around 35-40% in 1QCY11; this as non-voice communication continues to gain popularity among smartphone users.

Stable 2012 outlook

Going forward, all the three telcos expect their Singapore operations to remain stable or show modest growth, buoyed by the increasing mobile data usage and also the NBN roll-out which is nearing completion. However, EBITDA margin outlook continues to remain fairly muted; and any boost from LTE is not likely to materialize substantially in 2012. Nevertheless, thanks to their strong cashflow generative businesses, the telcos have kept their dividend payout guidance, thus keeping their yields attractive.


With the exception of StarHub (+11% YTD), the other two stocks have underperformed (M1 -1.6%, SingTel -0.6%) versus the STI’s 5.2% gain. But with markets likely to remain volatile, we believe that the telcos’ defensive earnings and attractive yields offer a safe harbour for the risk-adverse investors. Maintain OVERWEIGHT. Our pick in the sector is M1.

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