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Singtel underlying profit down 13% as virus, competition bite

The combined effects of the coronavirus, a one-off Indian spectrum fee and currency devaluation have wiped 65% off Singtel's full-year earnings.

The group, which owns operators in Southeast Asia and Australia as well as the subcontinent, posted income of S$1.08 billion (US$760 million) on 5% lower revenue of S$16.54 billion ($11.66 billion).

Excluding the one-off S$302 million ($213 million) hit in India for the spectrum payment and licensing fees, underlying profit was still down 13% at S$2.46 billion ($1.73 billion), the company said Thursday.

The 6% depreciation of the Australian dollar also clipped nearly three percentage points off total operating revenue. In constant currency terms revenue was off 2.0%.

CEO Chua Sock Koong described it as a "challenging year" because of the soft economic conditions, Airtel's spectrum and other charges, and the arrival of COVID-19.

"Travel and movement restrictions have led to significant reductions in roaming and prepaid revenues and slowing economic growth has impacted business spend," she said in a statement.

The pandemic effects were felt severely in Singapore and the Australian unit Optus in Q4.

Singapore revenue was off 14%, with device sales 35% lower as a result of supply disruptions.

The digital content business also contracted 15%. Singtel shut down troubled streaming service Hooq in March while ad solutions subsidiary Amobee was hit by the sudden slowdown in advertising campaigns.

In Australia, Optus experienced "pronounced fourth quarter weakness" due to data price competition, lower device sales and weak consumer sentiment, Singtel said.

Optus' full-year earnings plunged 39% to A$402 million ($266 million), a result of price competition in both fixed and mobile services and lower NBN resale margins.

Chua said the Indian market had turned the corner after two years of price war and consolidation, and Airtel was now gaining market share in a three-player market.

"With the provisioning for Airtel's spectrum charges and licence fees, we can put those issues behind us."

The group reported 3.6% improvement in free cash flow while increasing capital expenditure.

However, because of the "unprecedented" COVID-19 disruptions, Singtel said would not provide guidance for the next financial year.

It said the company was investing for longer-term growth.

"Importantly, the Group will continue its multi-year 5G capital expenditure programme to strengthen its network and market leadership, and to create new revenue opportunities."

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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