x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Maroc rings sour note after dividend is cut

What's Down: Maroc Telecom disappointed analysts after it cut dividends to shareholders by 12 per cent for last year.

Maroc Telecom is at risk of losing its status as a defensive stock after it cut its dividend for last year by 12 per cent.

The company, which is part-owned by the French telecommunications group Vivendi, paid its shareholders 9.3 Moroccan dirhams for each share held after it faced fierce competition from its rivals.

Maroc Telecom shares have been held by hedge-fund managers, emerging-markets funds and local fund managers in Morocco because of its traditionally high dividend yields, at 7.5 per cent, but that may soon change.

Morocco, with a population of 31.5 million, has three telecoms operators.

Maroc competes with Méditel, affiliated to France Telecom, and Inwi, which counts Kuwait's Zain among its main shareholders.

Inwi started operations in February last year.

"The sector has historically compensated its low growth potential for its high return," Faycal Allouch, a research analyst at CFG investment bank in Morocco, said in a note to clients.

Mr Allouch is predicting yields to fall to 6.2 per cent this year.

He lowered the fair value price on Maroc Telecom to 137 dirhams a share from 144 dirhams previously and maintained a "hold" recommendation on the stock.

The operator reported revenues of 30 billion dirhams last year, a decline of 2.5 per cent from the year earlier period amid aggressive mobile pricing and a continued decline in the country's fixed-line business.

Maroc Telecom reported a 14 per cent drop in net income to 8.1bn dirhams for last year.

Morocco has been troubled for months by growing popular demands for political, economic and social reform, after regional uprisings overthrew leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The company averted a scheduled three-day strike last August by reaching an agreement with unions, as employees demanded higher wages and the introduction of bonuses that reflected rises in the company's profitability.

Maroc owns a majority stake in Mauritel, Mauritania's main telecoms company and also has subsidiaries in Burkina Faso, Gabon and Mali.

Listed on the Casablanca Stock Exchange, Maroc has declined 4.8 per cent this year.

The shares were last traded at 129 dirhams a share ahead of the Easter holiday.

halsayegh@thenational.ae

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