I have a confession to make. I’ve become enamored with mobile telecoms plays in the adventurous regions of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They’ve got it all: Steady growth, dividends, and Russian oligarchs fighting over assets. What’s not to like?
Companies like Mobile Telesystems (MBT) and VimpelCom Ltd. are attractive assets in the global scramble for mobile footprint. As a wrote back in the beginning of summer, I think global mobile assets are strategic for both their subscribers and spectrum. VimpelCom is up quite nicely since we mentioned this thesis. I don’t think these plays are any different. The only question is which oligarch or global telecom provider steps up first.
Example of the activity: Russian president Vladimir Putin’s oligarch ally Yury Kovalchuk recently bought half of Tele2 Russia. Perhaps he was bored. The Bloomberg article speculates that the oligarchs want to combine assets with state-controlled company OAO Rostelecom. They are trying to scale up to the likes of Mobile TeleSystems and VimpelCom. That’s okay, there’s room for everybody. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Russian, Eastern Europe all have a nice mix of mobile growth activity, as they enjoy the same trends as the rest of the world: A movement to smartphones, tablets, and mobile broadband connections. But of course they’re just a little behind the developed world, so its a good place for time travel.
These telecom properties generate steady cash flows and pay out dividends of 5-10%. Both VimpelCom and MBT have strong positions in Eastern European and Central Asia, where it’s still early days for smartphone adoption. This will drive growth in mobile data services. For example, the Central Asian regions have CAGR of 13 percent, according to Pyramid Research.
Take VimpleCom, which I own. It’s one of the largest operators in Russian and has lots of operations all over Central Europe and Asia. For example, it’s got the largest mobile operator in Pakistan, and contols the popular Beeline brand in Kazakhstan (fun!). It’s got a market cap of $22.7 billion and revenues of $23 billion. Return on equity is 23%. It’s got annual cash flows of about $7 billion, and is slated to pay an 11% dividend over the next year. The forward P/E is about 9 on quarterly profit growth of 17%. What a deal.
MBT, which serves about 100 million mobile subscribers, has services all over Russian, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. It’s got a market cap of 23.6 billion and churns out $5 billion in annual operating cash flow on a forward P/E of 11. The dividend is currently 3.5%.
I think these companies have interesting possiblities: They are strategic global growth stories in the mobile landscape and the oligarchs will continue to have fun playing chess with them, perhaps hoping to attract even bigger fish like Deutsche Telekom or Vodafone.
Think about it, you’re on your yacht in the Black Sea, warming up for the Olympics for Sochi. You’re using your tablet and talking on your mobile phone. The world is coming to you and it’s all about mobile communication. If you’re an oligarch why wouldn’t you want to control more of the global mobile spectrum?
(Disclosure: Long VIP and MBT.)