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UPDATE 1-South Africa's Blue Label Telecom signs deal to lower Cell C's debt
February 27, 2017 / 3:53 PM / 10 months ago

UPDATE 1-South Africa's Blue Label Telecom signs deal to lower Cell C's debt

(Adds minority investor comment, Cell C board comment)

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 27 (Reuters) - South Africa’s Cell C and its creditors have agreed a deal with Blue Label Telecoms and an unnamed investor that would reduce the mobile phone network operator’s debt to 6 billion rand ($463 million), Blue Label said in a statement on Monday.

Cell C is South Africa’s third largest mobile phone company but debts totalling about 20 billion rand have hampered its growth in a maturing phone market where rivals Vodacom and MTN are much bigger.

Blue Label, the largest distributor of pre-paid voice and data airtime in South Africa, agreed last year to pay 5.5 billion rand for a 45 percent stake in Cell C and said it would lead the company’s recapitalisation plan.

Blue Label said on Monday that its stake in the firm would remain unchanged even though the unnamed investor in the deal to lower Cell C’s debt would be taking 15 percent.

“The third-party investor is to subscribe for 15 percent of the share capital of Cell C for 2 billion rand,” Blue Label said.

Shares in Blue Label were up 4.6 percent at 18.61 rand by 1541 GMT.

“The restructuring agreement addresses the over-geared balance sheet of Cell C and will unlock further improved and exciting performance,” Cell C said in a statement.

But a minority shareholder of Cell C said last week it would fight the deal.

CellSAF, which holds a 25 percent stake in 3C Telecommunications, which in turn owns Cell C, launched a court challenge against the deal last year.

CellSAf said in a statement it remained “resolutely opposed to the so-called recapitalisation of Cell C, and will continue to fight against it despite the announcement by Blue Label that the finalisation of the transaction has been postponed to 30 June 2017”.

The firm claimed that it had not been consulted about the involvement of a new investor.

But Cell C’s board denied this on Thursday, saying that CellSAf’s representatives on the 3C Telecommunications board had been supplied with all necessary documentation and information about the plan.

“The recapitalisation plan brings new cash equity as well as the contribution of strategic partners into Cell C, both of which are critical to Cell C’s continued growth and success,” the Cell C board said in a statement. ($1 = 12.9525 rand) (Reporting by TJ Strydom; editing by David Clarke, Greg Mahich)

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