February 28, 2019 / 4:43 PM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-South Africa's MTN expects up to 90 pct jump in 2018 profit

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JOHANNESBURG, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Africa’s biggest mobile phone operator MTN Group expects to increase profits by as much as 90 percent in 2018, as the company continues to recover from a regulatory fine in Nigeria.

Founded with the South African government’s help after the end of apartheid in 1994, MTN is touted as one of South Africa’s biggest corporate success stories, but clashes with regulators have distracted management and crimped growth.

MTN, which is due to report 2018 results on March 7, said on Thursday that headline earnings per share, the primary measure of profit in South Africa, would likely come in a range of 328 cents to 346 cents for the year ended December. That compares with 182 cents a year earlier.

Even the upper end of the forecast is not even half what the company reported in 2015, a year before it agreed to pay a $1.7 billion fine over three years for missing a deadline to cut off unregistered SIM card users in Nigeria. The oil-rich west African country accounts for nearly a third of MTN’s core profit, but it has become increasingly problematic.

In December, the company agreed to pay $53 million to resolve a dispute with the Central Bank of Nigeria, which had accused MTN of sending abroad $8.1 billion using improperly issued paperwork. The company is still fighting in court with the Nigerian attorney general over $2 billion in back taxes.

It has also faced run-ins with authorities in other countries where it operates, including Uganda, where four senior executives were deported in recent weeks on accusations of compromising national security. (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Elaine Hardcastle)

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