PIC selloff 'to fix BEE rating' at Vodacom

24 April 2016 - 02:02 By ASHA SPECKMAN

A deal in which the Public Investment Corporation is likely to offload a sizable portion of its shares in Vodacom to black investors could be part of a plan by the mobile operator to bolster its BEE rating as opportunities arise to buy the spectrum required to grow its business. CEO Dan Matjila said on Friday that the PIC, which has a stake of about 15% in the largest mobile network operator in South Africa, was "quite concerned" about Vodacom's BEE numbers and that this deal, if concluded, was " an opportunity for them to fix their house".In 2008, Vodacom did a broad-based BEE deal, but this translated into a BEE shareholding of only 3.44%.Asked on Friday if Vodacom intended to do another BEE deal, spokesman Byron Kennedy said: "Vodacom is fully supportive of the government's objectives around transformation."But when asked to comment on this possible deal with the PIC, Kennedy said "we do not comment on speculation".mini_story_image_hleft1The possible deal has attracted scrutiny, especially after it emerged on Friday that leading one of several consortiums that have approached the PIC is former Vodacom executive Romeo Kumalo, who resigned from the company a year ago.The bid for a portion of the PIC stake in Vodacom coincides with an important event in the telecoms industry - the imminent auction of scarce radio frequency spectrum.Mobile operators that want to buy that spectrum will need to prove that 30% of their shares are in the hands of black investors.Vodacom has not met that requirement, considered to be one of the reasons why its bid to buy Neotel for its spectrum failed earlier this year.But a sale of the PIC stake to black investors could alter this.If the transaction materialises, it would be mutually beneficial for the PIC, which is under pressure to reduce its exposure to telecoms and keep to limits set by its clients, said Matjila.The PIC increased its stake in Vodacom after buying the government's 13.9% when the state needed money to bail out Eskom last year.Matjila declined to elaborate on the stake the PIC was willing to offload, but said discussions were continuing about selling a portion of the shares."For this reason, the PIC is unable to disclose further details, considering that Vodacom is a listed company," he said.block_quotes_start There's very little doubt that one of the primary objectives of the spectrum assignment process will be transformation block_quotes_endVodacom had not issued a cautionary announcement to its shareholders by late on Friday.Kumalo could not be reached for comment on Friday.Another reason for Vodacom to improve its BEE rating is a possible deal to buy the struggling state-owned company Broadband Infraco for its spectrum. But it would seem that not much in the form of a transaction has materialised.Kennedy said Vodacom would welcome an invitation from the government to participate in the potential acquisition of Broadband Infraco.story_article_right1"We believe that this approach would be in the best interests of the sustainability of the industry."Regulatory lawyer Dominic Cull said the PIC's willingness for selling part of its Vodacom stake to black investors could be to position Vodacom favourably for the spectrum auction."If this is not an unsolicited bid or whatever it is, I think they are proactively looking at getting their house in order for that assignment process," said Cull."I think there's very little doubt that one of the primary objectives of the spectrum assignment process will be transformation. Coming in there without 30% BEE, you're going to have a problem."It raises hugely interesting questions about what MTN and Cell C are doing. I think there are all kinds of legal issues around this."This was difficult for listed companies, he said. "All these companies are listed. So there's a float and it's incredibly difficult to work out a [black] ownership percentage when 80% of your shares are in the free market."speckmana@sundaytimes.co.za

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