Nairametrics| Japanese investment giant SoftBank has called for a merger between homegrown Ola and US firm Uber’s India unit as part of its planned consolidation in Asia’s fast-growing ride-hailing app market. The talks, facilitated by SoftBank, which is the largest investor in both companies, have been going on for nearly a year, according to sources close to the development. However, in the past few days, this call for a merger between Uber and Ola has gathered steam.
Softbank’s push for consolidation in India’s ride-hailing market comes days after Uber announced its exit from Southeast Asia after selling its local unit to rival Grab. Post the completion of that deal, Uber will control 27.5% stake in the combined entity.
If the deal goes through and Ola acquires Uber’s India unit, it will mark the US firm’s fourth large retreat globally. The company has so far sold its China unit to rival Didi, Russian unit to local player Yandex and earlier this week it also announced the sale of its Southeast Asia unit to Grab.
The Global Ride Sharing Portfolio
According to a recent report, Didi (China) Uber (US), Grab (SE Asia) and Ola (India) control the largest block for global ride-hailing/sharing business with 25m, 15m, 3.5m and 1.5m daily rides respectively.
SoftBank, appear to have an incestuous relationship with these major global players owning significant stakes all of them, while Uber and Ola are also shareholders in each other. It is some complex corporate structure, but I will not bore you with all of those
Maybe Softbank will be the biggest beneficiary of how these shapes up because of its strategic investments in Uber and Didi especially. Through its investment in Did, Softbank becomes a secondary investor in all of the companies that Didi had invested in including Careem, Lyft, 99, and Taxify. This leads me to the African angle to this consolidation story.
Is Nigeria and Africa Overrated?
In all of these lopsided strategic acquisitions, mergers, strategic investments, and retreats, we have not seen any African startup participating in these rounds. African startups in this context mean – founded in Africa by Africans. Absolutely none.
The only explanation I have for this is that the African market is not as important as we make it appear. Uber’s abysmal performance in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa gives credence to this. Like I said in the opening paragraph, Softbank might be leading the merger conversations between Uber and Ola, however, the same Softbank has not hidden its contempt for the African market, telling Uber to Exit Africa at all cost. This implies that Africa is more likely a cost centre to the business, with no significant long-term prospects.
Don’t forget, India is a single country, well, with a population of almost the size of Africa, but then, it is still a country. I wonder why the issue of free trade within Africa is still a concern but will leave that politicians and economists to discern.
The summary of this section is that Africa is insignificant in the scheme of things. But then, Uber will have to wind down its operations in Africa somehow. The options I believe is available include;
⦁ Selling to a local rival (Like it has always done in previous markets), but the challenge with that is – Who is this local rival?
⦁ Just close shop and relocate
So the question is, who wins in Africa?
So, Who wins in Africa?
The largest and most sophisticated markets in Africa are (In no particular order);
⦁ South Africa
We can however safely assume that North African countries – Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia might not be considered as Africa because of their links and close ties with the Middle East and Europe respectively. In fact, Sub Saharan Africa is measured separately from MENA – Middle East & North Africa.
This tie can be further explained by the ride-hailing competitive landscape. The most prominent local alternative to Uber is the Dubai based ride-hailing app – Careem. As prominent as Careem is in the MENA region, it has no presence in SSA. This further shows the difference between the 2 regions, though they are both in Africa.
Now that we have excluded Careem from the equation, who is left? Francophone Africa appears to be excluded from these ride-hailing business. This might be because of sophistication issues, language or significantly smaller markets compared to its anglophone counterparts.
Now that Francophone Africa is gone, let’s look at the biggest Anglophone African countries South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana. Of all of these countries, none has a significant local rival to Uber. I am sad as I write this, but, that is the truth.
Instead of the South African entrepreneurs to create another Uber, their legacy taxi drivers are busy vandalizing Uber cabs. In Nigeria, the local variation – GoMyWay died last year. EasyTaxi did not catch on, OgaTaxi is barely making a dent in the space.
In Ghana, Uber all the way. In Kenya, Safaricom introduced its own ride-hailing business called Little. Little was expected to launch in Nigeria sometimes last year, but we have not seen them until today. This might suggest the state of play in that region.
However, one name that keeps on ringing when it comes to putting a fight on Uber is Taxify! Yes, Taxify, the European ride-hailing startup, with a strong focus on Africa. Taxify has kept Uber on its toes, fighting dirty in every market.
Taxify understands that keeping its Drivers happy will trickle down to its customers. They also know that letting the driver have a greater percentage of the trip proceeds is a major contributor to driver satisfaction.
What about OgaTaxi?
As much as I want Ogataxi to be the eventual beneficiary of the potential and looming sale of Uber’s Africa business, I think Taxify will be the eventual buyer, thus ending the controversy within the African continent.
Taxify is the most prepared, it has the widest spread as well as the greatest backing especially from Didi.
This battle for Africa is drawing to a close and Taxify appear to be the winner that takes all.
Role of Government – Protecting your Own
As much as we like to advocate for an open market, China has set the example of consciously protecting its own companies from external (Western) aggression. From Ebay vs Alibaba, Apple vs Xiaomi, Google vs Baidoo, Whatsapp vs WeChat to name a few. Maybe I expect African governments to do the same. However, I reckon that each individual country is too small to make a dent in global trade wars, that’s why the Africa Free Trade Area is important.
I am sincerely sad that I can’t find any African ride-hailing startup to potentially benefit from the Uber firesale, but then, what doeth we?
Julius Berger’s rebound contingent on full economic bounce back
Julius Berger’s construction portfolio includes infrastructure, industry, building, and facility services solutions.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the economic impact of the measures put in place to slow the spread of it, many industries have experienced slower growth. The construction industry was not left out. According to reports by GlobalData, the construction output growth forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has been revised to 2.3%, down from the previous projection of 3.3% (as of mid-April) and 6.0% in the pre-COVID-19 case (Q4 2019 update).
The reason for the contraction was noted by GlobalData to be as a result of the global slowdown and the outbreak of COVID-19 in the region. Other factors responsible include economic headwinds such as inflation, spending cuts, widening fiscal slippages, suspension of certain projects and more that could disrupt the construction sector. This contraction is projected to be 4.3% in South and Southeast Asia while France is expected to shrink by 9.4% in 2020.
Leading Construction Company, Julius Berger, had foreseen the contraction in the industry and commenced efforts to mitigate its impact and cushion the blow. One of such efforts was the reduction in dividend pay-out. After initially announcing a dividend pay-out of N2.75K per 50K share for the financial year ended December 31, 2019 and a bonus of 1 (one) new share for every existing 5 (five) shares held, the company eventually recommended a final cash dividend pay-out of N2.00K per 50k share.
It noted that the Group had “carefully considered the emerging social, operational, financial and economic impact of the COVID 19 pandemic, the outlook for Nigeria for the financial year 2020, and the impact on the business and cash flows of the Group.”
The company’s fears have been confirmed by its recent financials which, among other negatives, showed huge foreign exchange losses of N3.102 billion in the first half of 2020.
Q2 was the hardest
Julius Berger’s construction portfolio includes infrastructure, industry, building, and facility services solutions. With companies and nations alike revising scheduled capital expenses as a result of the shrinkages in product demand (owing to global quarantine measures), uncertainties around supply logistics as well as supply of materials, the company had gotten hit. Q1 had its own issues, but Q2 birthed a new dimension of challenges for the company.
Revenue was down 33% from N68.9 billion in Q2 2019 to N46.1 billion in 2020. There was also a huge loss in profit after tax of around 200% from a profit of N2.3 billion in Q2 2019 to a loss of N2.3 billion and this can be attributed to lower revenue, and increased losses from the company’s many investments.
Exchange difference on translation of foreign operations for the quarter alone increased by 227% to N1.4 billion in Q2 2020 from N438.5 million in the comparative quarter.
Outlook for the company and for investors
The disruptions the construction industry is currently experiencing is expected to continue for the medium-long term. Reports by Beroe Inc., a procurement intelligence firm, reveal major concerns that companies in the industry will witness profits being hurt and may even incur losses on a number of projects.
Companies having worldwide supply chains could see tier 2 and tier 3 suppliers highly affected by disruptions related to the pandemic. Worse off, it explains that construction materials like “steel, wood, plaster, aluminum, glazed partition systems, cement and cementitious products, paints, HVAC equipment, electrical equipment, and light fixtures from China are expected to be delayed.”
For the company, cost-cutting has never been more important. While there are a series of strategies it could explore to augment the challenges, its growth right now depends largely on the speed of global economic recovery. This is because both the company’s input needs as well as its output in terms of the recommencement of projects, depends on the speed with which business as usual commences and the amount of time it takes for the industry to find a new balance for its operations.
For investors, however, this presents a long term opportunity. Julius Berger currently trades at N15.05, falling 44.26% just within the last 3 months. The share price is also on the downside of its 52-week range (N14.42 and 22.92) and its price-to-book ratio of 0.6331 shows that the stock is undervalued.
While the company’s EPS is currently low at N2.52, investors who are willing to wait the time could find a gem in the stock particularly with the increased infrastructural needs born out of the population expansion which is taking place in many parts of the world in the years to come.
Total Nigeria caught in the oil demand and lockdown saga
In Q1 2020, the company had recorded a revenue drop of 9.3% to N70.2 billion compared to Q1 2019.
The year 2020 was supposed to be a good one for the global oil and gas industry. Save for the unprecedented fangs of the Covid-19 pandemic, the IEA had forecasted in February that the global oil demand would grow by 825,000 barrels a day in 2020. On the contrary, lockdown measures restraining travel and other economic activities to contain the pandemic in many parts of the world had global oil demand down around 90,000 barrels a day from 2019. While the upstream sector had a direct hit owing to this reduced demand, the impact of the pandemic on the downstream oil industry caused the price of crude oil to fall significantly in a short period of time. GlobalData had forecasted that the energy sector would face downward earnings revisions of 208% in 2020.
With the pandemic leading to a slowdown in a wide range of business and personal travel, even gasoline demand had reduced and this has led to inventory challenges in both the distribution network as well as the refineries. In Nigeria, following the challenges of the pandemic, the federal government deregulated the downstream sector of the oil industry through the removal of fuel subsidy. While it presents a level playing field for the downstream oil private sector, it didn’t take long before companies like Total Nigeria plc. started caving into the overall reduction in inventory from the reduced demand for oil products in Q2 2020. Consequently, the company witnessed a 45% reduction in inventories from N33.6 billion as at 31st December 2019 to N18.5 at the end of Q2 2020.
How the exogenous shocks affected an already ailing Total Nigeria
The success or failure of any organization depends on both the macroeconomic environment as well as the operations of the company itself. For Total Nigeria, the timing for the crisis had been off as it too had operational challenges to deal with. In Q1 2020, the company had recorded a revenue drop of 9.3% to N70.2 billion compared to Q1 2019. While the headwinds of the pandemic might have played a small role in the decline at least in the latter part of the quarter, the loss after tax of N163 million it had recorded was 65.6% better than the loss after tax of the comparative quarter – a testament of the series of operational challenges it had from huge loans to raging expenses. While the company had set off on a strategic trajectory deploying a series of initiatives around cost efficiency, process optimization, as well as a significant reduction of working capital requirement and finance costs, Q2 had its own troubles waiting.
Restrictions in the oil market had led to weaknesses across product lines. Total revenue fell by as much as 50% from N73 billion in Q2 2019 to N36.5 billion in Q2 2020. Revenues from petroleum products had contracted by 55.7% while lubricant sales also fell by 26.7% in the quarter. Across the company’s core business sectors comprising Networks, General Trade, and Aviation, revenue from aviation experienced the most decline, falling by 83.0%. Its performance can be predominantly attributed to the fall in demand owing to strict lockdown measures even in major Nigerian cities.
The outcome of the company’s internal and external challenges is a loss after tax of N373.9 million from N604 million in Q2 2019 – an alarming drop of 161.9%. However, its strategic intent is also visible. Net cash balance was a negative N19.6 billion at the end of the quarter, compared to negative N41.8 billion a year ago. Finance costs also declined by 76.1% to N830.3 million as the company sought to reduce its leverage position. In the same vein, borrowings came at N31.0 billion in Q2 2020 as opposed to the N39.9 billion in Q2 2019. Yet, the success of the company in the immediate future is somewhat bleak.
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This is because of the conditions of the oil market and overall economic landscape which is set to take a few years before returning to the norm as well as the financial and operational position of the company. That said, its earnings per share (EPS) of N4.37 and its price-to-earnings ratio of 18.12, reveal that the company has a good potential to make a rebound. However, it could take a few years. Hence, investors must be willing to wait for the long term. With its share price of N79.10 at the far bottom of its 52-week range of N78 and N129.50, it’s a great time to purchase its shares if you are willing to wait the long term.
Implications of CBN’s latest devaluation and FX unification
This move portends significant implications for Nigeria’s public and private sector.
The CBN devalued the naira by 5% at the end of last week, adjusting the official exchange rate to N380/$1 in a major move aimed at unifying the multiple exchange rate windows.
Whilst no official confirmation was issued by the apex bank, its website displayed the buying rate of N379/$1 and selling rate of N380/$1. Nigeria is clearly in a new exchange rate territory.
This move portends significant implications for Nigeria’s public and private sectors. Since March when the CBN last depreciated from N307/$1 to N360/$1, there have been calls for further depreciation to at least close the gap between the official CBN rate and the more market-friendly NAFEX exchange rate. The NAFEX rate has traded between N385-390 in recent weeks.
For the federal government, devaluing the naira solves two major issues:
- Firstly, it increases the amount available to share from the Federal Allocation (FAAC) between the FG and States.
- Oil proceeds, which is a major source of revenue sharing for the government is deposited at the CBN and then converted to naira using the official exchange rate of N360/$1. The CBN’s latest devaluation suggests more money for the government as the conversion rate is now N379/$1.
- Government taxes that are priced in forex but converted to naira also stand to gain a major earnings boost.
- Custom duties, petroleum profit taxes, and other charges will now be converted at an exchange rate of N379/$1 or whatever new rate the CBN chooses, assuming it will work within the NAFEX band.
- A second issue the solves is the condition precedent towards obtaining a $3 billion world bank loan. The government applied for a world bank loan as part of its N2.3 trillion stimulus expected to be injected into the economy.
- It is understood that a unification of the exchange rate is critical to the disbursement of the loan.
Whilst these are positives, the government will record cost escalations for some if not all of its capital projects and expenditure. From vehicle purchases to furniture and fittings we should expect a spike except the contracts are fixed-priced.
The impact of the latest devaluation will also be significant for the private sector.
- While the private sector has recorded its own devaluation via the NAFEX and more recently the SMIS window, the impact of the CBN’s latest move will still be felt.
- Most private pubic partnership projects, contracts are priced using the CBN official exchange rate. The price will now change to N379/$1 at the least.
- The latest move could also lead to a reopening of forex sale to BDC’s which the CBN suspended in March as the Covid-19 pandemic ensued.
- Sectors such as Power, Downstream Oil and Gas where the government has control over pricing will be significantly affected by the new price.
- An example if fuel prices. With the exchange rate devalued again, fuel prices might increase if the impact of the exchange rate is reflected in the pricing template.
NAFEX versus Official Rate
It is not clear how the latest round of devaluation affects the NAFEX rate and other separate rates currently in use by the CBN. Whilst the disparity has been closed somewhat, we still do not know if these windows will be retained or if we will just have two major exchange rate windows, the BDC and the NAFEX.
Most critics of the CBN’s forex policy prefer a uniform exchange rate that is floating or under a managed float system. The difference is that the CBN intervenes occasionally to ensure the exchange rate trades within its preferred band. It does this even if it means burning through its thin reserves.
We expect a string of circulars in the coming days which will perhaps douse some of the confusion providing needed clarity to the exchange rate situation.