Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mobile telephony - a low margin future?

Zain's Ksh3 per minute call anywhere announcement last Thursday was in effect the first time Zain has made a no-head scratching announcement. That and CCK's subsequent announcement on halving interconnection rates to Ksh2.21 per minute could mark watershed moment in the mobile voicecall sector.

The key driver of the Zain move is obviously to take away subscribers away from Safaricom. The size of Safaricom's subscriber book is now seen as the biggest entry barrier into this sector and both the measures are aimed at reducing the book. As an aside, Safaricom paid Ksh4.5bn in interconnection rates (13% of its operating expense), you can thus imagine how much the other 3 players pay given most of their subscribers will be calling Safaricom customers.

Safaricom's subsequent response was clumsily presented, but the upshot is that its 8m or so subscribers will only pay Ksh2 per minute to call each other for the next month. Safaricom made Ksh63bn of its Ksh84bn revenue from voice calls last year. Thus Safaricom responded to the threat on its subscriber book (you can tell this is the case by the fact that postpaid customers will still be paying normal Ksh8 rate). The length of the offer period implies that Safaricom's thinking is that Zain can not sustain Ksh3 per minute beyond a month. Wishful thinking?

The issue is this. Can the voicecall providers make money if interconnection rates are reduced and hence they have to reduce the charge per minute? In my mind, the components that make up the cost of a call would be the fixed and variable (staff, commission, marketing) costs incurred by the provider; any costs associated with interconnection; other business-associated costs. A lot of the smaller players can probably sustain a price war because their interconnection cost has been halved. For Safaricom however, such a war would be costly because interconnection rates are a small portion of its business. It is clear that Safaricom is making a very healthy margin from voicecalls.
But the future portends lower margins and I think Safaricom shareholders should not ignore this especially in the medium-term when voice revenue will still be its predominant source of revenue.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

2012 and beyond: US/Swiss model or the Nigeria one

The more I reflect on Kenya's history, the more I realise that how we are governed will be the key differentiator on whether we achieve our potential or not. The new katiba has given Kenya a potentially life-saving form of governance but only if its implemented to the letter. Below I review some of the new facets and their implications.
The 2012 general election will usher in
  • an executive where only the president and his pre-nominated vp will be elected officials. The rest will be appointees from outside the political circle who will be vetted by the various parliamentary committees. This will work if you have a president who wants technocrats that can deliver in the particular ministry. The US model almost works but don't forget you can get guys like Donald Rumsifield. If done properly, we'll get a John Michuki-type in every ministry.
  • County governance. This is new but it means that a lot of the current MPs will actually prefer being governors and senators than MPs. A positive because it means that we'll have a new crop of MPs. The downside is that your current MP might be angling to eat his cut of the 15% from the budget. In this respect, lets pray we don't get the dysfunctional Nigerian model but the super uber efficient Swiss one. Already in Nyeri, Elephant Maina is eyeing the governor seat to consolidate the horrible road he did in the area. Do you think any other road contractor will build roads there?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

NSE: lull before a dip or a rise?

Despite a very positive referendum outcome with Kenyans voting overwhelmingly to look forward than backwards and doing so peacefully even in the volatile RV region, the NSE seems to have taken the news with a discernible lack of interest. Is the market ignoring these gains in the political environment or are there other factors at work?
Yes there was a rise pre-the voting day as it became clear that the YES team had done enough and moreover Kibz govt had anticipated any violence in RV by posting security everywhere, but a subsequent correction whittled these gains.

To my mind, the reduction in political risk should mean the NSE heading towards a 5,000 close by end of the year to reflect the gains in the economic arena not just from the YES vote but also the subsequent dividend from the same as well as the bumper agriculture produce that we should be seeing this year. This latter factor should mean lower produce prices this year and thus lower inflation feeding into higher savings and so on.
The future for Kenya's economy notwithstanding usual weather issues is frankly very bright and one would be advised to pick NSE shares that have either strong regional momentum or products that have a regional reach. Equity, Centum, DTB to name but a few have set their eyes on achieving the same sort of growth rates in EA that they have in Kenya.