Singapore Telecommunications Limited (SGX: Z74), or Singtel, released its full fiscal year 2020 earnings this morning.
As expected, it was not a pretty picture.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on mobile service usage due to travel and movement restrictions, leading to lower prepaid and roaming revenue.
On the bright side, Singtel recently won one of two provisional licences to deploy 5G technology and infrastructure in Singapore.
Singtel’s Australian subsidiary, Optus, has already started its 5G rollout last year.
Here are four other takeaways from the telco’s full-year earnings report.
Weaker underlying net profit
Operating revenue for Singtel declined by 4.8% year on year, to S$16.5 billion for the full fiscal year.
The full-year results were dragged down by the fiscal fourth quarter, which saw the adverse effects of COVID-19 creeping in.
The group experienced broad-based declines in mobile, TV and fixed voice for Singapore, while Australia witnessed lower operating revenue from lower retail fixed and equipment sales revenue, offset slightly by higher contributions from next-generation broadband network (NBN) migration.
Weakness in the Australian dollar also contributed to the lower revenue, as constant currency revenue decline would have been just 2% year on year.
Higher levels of depreciation resulted in operating profit declining by 7.5% year on year.
Underlying net profit (after stripping out exceptional items such as Bharti Airtel’s provision for regulatory cost relating to a one-time spectrum charge) declined by 13% year on year due to higher tax expenses.
Mobile revenue negatively impacted
Mobile revenue suffered due to movement restrictions and lockdowns.
For Singapore, total mobile revenue fell 7.7% year on year to S$2.3 billion. Mobile revenue consists of mobile service revenue, the sale of mobile equipment and handset leasing. Of this total, mobile service revenue fell 9.7% year on year to S$1.5 billion.
Equipment sales witnessed a small 3.9% year on year decline due to supply chain disruptions, while handset leasing revenue performed better.
Over at Australia, total mobile revenue declined by 4.7% year on year to A$5.7 billion, led by lower mobile service revenue (down 5% year on year) and a decline of 7.3% year on year in equipment sales.
Moving forward, mobile revenue will remain under pressure if the pandemic does not ease up.
However, some countries have begun easing lockdowns, which may allow revenue in this segment to slowly recover.
Declining revenue per subscriber
Singtel managed to increase its mobile market share in Singapore from 49.9% a year ago to 50.4%.
The telco had a total of 4.28 million mobile subscribers at end-2020, 2.1% higher than the 4.19 million it had a year ago.
However, a key operating metric, the average revenue per user (ARPU), declined by 11.1% year on year from S$33 per month to S$30.
Both prepaid and postpaid ARPU saw declines of 9.6% and 12.5% year on year, respectively.
Over in Australia, the number of mobile subscribers also increased, albeit by a smaller 1.6% year on year, to 10.4 million subscribers.
However, blended ARPU per month saw a 6.6% year on year decrease to A$29 per month, with ARPU declines seen in prepaid, postpaid and mobile.
These numbers confirm a worrying trend — that of lower revenue capture per customer even as both countries see a rise in subscriber numbers.
If left unchecked, the steady decline in ARPU will continue to erode Singtel’s mobile revenue over the medium-term.
Reduction in final divided
Singtel has announced a reduction in its dividend pay-out, in line with weaker sentiment and uncertainties relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The final dividend declared was S$0.0545, 49% lower than the S$0.107 declared last year.
Including the interim dividend of S$0.068, the total full-year dividend of S$0.1225 represents around 81% of underlying net profit and a 30% year on year decline from last fiscal year’s S$0.175 dividend.
At Singtel’s last traded share price of S$2.53, this represents a trailing 12-month dividend yield of around 4.8%.
Get Smart: Investment in 5G will crimp free cash flow
Singtel generated S$3.8 billion in free cash flow for the fiscal year ended 31 March 2020.
Although the telco has a history of consistent free cash flow generation, multi-year investments in 5G technology and infrastructure may raise capital expenditure levels significantly.
In turn, this will crimp the level of free cash flow generation in future years.
Coupled with declining mobile, residential pay-TV and fixed voice revenue for Singapore, the telco may witness further financial stress.
If these pain points continue unresolved, there may be a further cut in dividends down the line.
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Disclaimer: Royston Yang does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.