NEWBURY, UK -- Vodafone has announced results for the six months ended 30 September 2018. Highlights:
Nick Read, Group Chief Executive, commented:
"Our performance in the majority of our markets has been good during the first half of the year, and we have taken decisive commercial and operational actions to respond to challenging competitive conditions in Italy and Spain. We are on track to reduce net operating expenses for the third year running, and we are confirming the mid-point of our EBITDA guidance range, with an increased outlook for free cash flow generation.
Looking ahead, my new strategic priorities focus on driving greater consistency of commercial execution, accelerating digital transformation, radically simplifying our operating model and generating better returns from our infrastructure assets. Our goal is to deepen customer engagement through a broader offering of products and services, and to deliver the best digital customer experience, supported by consistent investment in our leading Gigabit networks. We expect that this will drive revenue growth, reduce churn and lower our European net operating expenses by at least 1.2 billion by FY2021.
As part of our effort to improve returns, we are creating a virtual internal tower company across our European operations, and we are reviewing the best strategic and financial direction for these assets.
Our focus on organic growth along with the strategic and financial benefits of the proposed acquisition of Liberty Global's assets give confidence in the Group's ability to grow free cash flow, which underpins our dividend."
CHIEF EXECUTIVE'S STATEMENT
Financial review of the half year
On 20 March 2017 we announced an agreement to merge Vodafone India with Idea Cellular ('Idea') in India, which completed on 31 August 2018. As a result, Vodafone India has been excluded from Group figures for all periods up to 31 August 2018 and the results of Vodafone Idea have been included in all Group figures for all periods thereafter, unless otherwise stated.
Financial results: Statutory performance measures
Following the adoption of IFRS 15 "Revenue from Contracts with Customers" on 1 April 2018, the Group's statutory results for the six months ended 30 September 2018 are on an IFRS 15 basis, whereas the statutory results for the six months ended 30 September 2017 are, as previously reported, on an IAS 18 basis. Any comparison between the two bases of reporting is not meaningful. As a result, the discussion of our operating results is primarily on an IAS 18 basis for all periods presented. See "Alternative performance measures" on page 48 for more information and reconciliations to the closest respective equivalent GAAP measures.
Group revenue declined by 5.5% to 21.8 billion, reflecting foreign exchange headwinds, the impact of the adoption of IFRS 15, which nets certain components of dealer commissions from service revenues, and the sale of Qatar. Operating loss was 2.1 billion, down 4.1 billion, largely driven by impairments of 3.5 billion in Spain, Romania and Vodafone Idea.
The loss for the financial period of 7.8 billion reflects these impairments, a loss on disposal of Vodafone India of 3.4 billion recognised following the completion of the merger with Idea Cellular, higher net financing costs (following adverse foreign exchange movements, mark to market losses and higher gross borrowings) and the de-recognition of a deferred tax asset in Spain. Basic loss per share was 29.00 eurocents, compared to earnings per share of 4.03 eurocents for the period ended 30 September 2017.
Financial results: Alternative performance measures
On an IAS 18 basis, Group organic service revenue excluding handset financing grew 0.8%** (Q1: 1.1%**, Q2: 0.5%**). Growth was driven by market share gains in Europe Consumer fixed, strong mobile data demand and customer base growth in our emerging market operations, and continued momentum in Vodafone Business supported by market share gains in fixed and strong IoT sales. These offset increased competitive pressures in Italy and Spain, and the drag from lower wholesale revenue.
Group organic adjusted EBITDA grew 2.9%** excluding handset financing and settlements. This reflected broad based growth across the majority of our markets, with the exception of Italy and Spain, and was supported by operating expense reduction across both Europe and Common functions, which was only partially offset by inflationary pressures in AMAP.
Consequently, the Group's adjusted organic EBITDA margin (excluding handset financing and settlements) increased by 0.3 percentage points to 30.8%**, and we remain on-track for a fourth consecutive year of underlying EBITDA margin expansion. Adjusted EBIT increased 8.6%** excluding handset financing and settlements, driven by adjusted EBITDA growth and lower depreciation and amortisation expenses.
On a reported basis, adjusted EBITDA and adjusted EBIT declined, reflecting foreign exchange headwinds, a lower benefit from handset financing in the UK and a regulatory settlement in the UK in the prior year.
The Group's adjusted effective tax rate for H1 was 25.9% compared to 22.2% last year. This higher rate is primarily due to a change in the country mix of the Group's profits, partly driven by the financing for the acquisition of Liberty Global's assets in Germany and Central & Eastern Europe, and the impact of non-tax deductible foreign exchange losses. We expect the Group's underlying effective tax rate for the full year to remain within our low to mid-20s range.
Adjusted earnings per share, which exclude impairment losses and the results of Vodafone India (which were included in discontinued operations), were 3.56 eurocents, a decrease of 43.7% year-on-year, as lower adjusted EBIT and higher net financing costs more than offset the decrease in income tax expense.
Liquidity and capital resources
Free cash flow pre-spectrum was 0.9 billion, compared to 1.3 billion in the prior year. The reduction year-on-year was principally driven by lower adjusted EBITDA and higher capital creditor outflows, partly offset by lower capital additions (which decreased to 3.1 billion, representing 13.6% of revenues).
Free cash flow post spectrum was 0.6 billion, compared to 0.4 billion in the prior year. Spectrum payments were 0.2 billion, principally reflecting 3500MHz spectrum acquired in the UK to support the rollout of 5G services. Cash restructuring costs of 0.1 billion were similar to the prior year.
Net debt as at 30 September 2018 was 32.1 billion compared to 29.6 billion as at 31 March 2018. This reflects free cash flow generation in the period of 0.9 billion, proceeds from Verizon loan notes of 2.1 billion, offset by FY18 final dividend payments of 2.7 billion, spectrum purchases of 1.0 billion (including 0.6 billion for the Italian auction, which was ongoing at the period end), and a net cash outflow to India from Vodafone Group of 0.8 billion in connection with the Vodafone Idea transaction.
Strategic review of the half year
The Group simplified its strategy during the first half of the financial year, identifying five drivers of sustainable revenue and free cash flow growth, which are described below. The foundation of our strategy is our significant investments in leading 4G wireless and next generation fixed networks, which continue to support an excellent customer experience. Based on network net promoter scores, at the end of the period the Group was a leader or co-leader in 18 out of 20 markets for Consumer and Business, with a significant performance gap relative to value-focused competitors.
Europe Consumer: Selling 'one more product' per customer, lowering churn through convergence
In H1, the European Consumer segment accounted for 49.1% of Group service revenues.
We aim to drive growth in the Europe Consumer segment by developing deeper customer relationships, with a strong focus on our existing base. We intend to both cross-sell additional products (e.g., broadband, family SIMs, TV) and up-sell new experiences (including higher speeds with 4G Evo / 5G, low latency mobile gaming services and a wide range of Consumer IoT devices, enabled by our leading 'V by Vodafone' global platform). Our objective is to increase revenue per customer and to significantly reduce churn, an increasing proportion of our customer base becomes converged over time.
We intend to launch 5G services in-line with leading local competitors during calendar 2019 and 2020, with an initial focus on dense urban areas. 5G's improved spectral and energy efficiency supports up to a 10x reduction in the cost per Gigabyte, which will allow the Group to limit the future growth in network operating costs despite strong expected traffic growth.
Overall, Europe Consumer service revenues excluding UK handset financing declined by 0.6%** in H1, with fixed growth of 3.6%** offset by a mobile decline of 2.1%**. Excluding Spain, Italy and the drag from UK handset financing, service revenues grew by 3.0%**, with fixed growth of 6.1%** and mobile growing by 1.8%**. Fixed represented 28.3% of segment revenues in the period.
In Consumer Fixed, we continued to expand our NGN footprint, which is the largest in Europe. On a pro-forma basis for the acquisition of Liberty Global's cable assets (announced in May), we covered 117 million households at the end of the period, with 54 million 'on-net' (including VodafoneZiggo). With the potential to offer superior gigabit-speeds via DOCSIS3.1 on Cable and via FTTH to most of these homes in the next few years, we see significant scope to increase on-net broadband customer penetration, which is currently 28%, at attractive incremental margins.
Including VodafoneZiggo, the Group had 20.4 million broadband customers, 6.2 million converged customers and 13.7 million TV customers at the end of the period. We maintained good commercial momentum in all markets other than Spain, which was impacted by increased competitive intensity and by our decision not to renew unprofitable football rights. During H1 we added 384,000 broadband customers, 744,000 NGN customers and 616,000 converged customers (partially supported by the first-time recognition of prepaid customers in Germany). Our TV customer base declined by 71,000, following football customer losses in Spain.
In Consumer Mobile, data growth remained strong at 57%, with average smartphone usage increasing to 3.2 GB per month. Our ability to monetise this growth varied by market. In Germany and the UK, underlying Consumer ARPU trends improved on the back of more-for-more offers and RPI-linked price increases, respectively, although on a reported basis this was offset by a mix shift towards SIM-only / family SIMs and convergence discounts. In Italy and Spain, increased competition led to material ARPU declines.
Vodafone Business: A leading international challenger in fixed, 'industrialising' IoT
In H1, Vodafone Business accounted for 29.8% of Group service revenues.
We are in the process of rebranding our former Enterprise division as 'Vodafone Business', which we believe will help to increase our brand recognition as we broaden our service offering. Our strategy is to drive growth and deepen our existing mobile customer relationships by cross-selling additional services including next generation fixed, IoT and Cloud services. We aim to increase revenue per account and reduce churn, while also improving productivity through our salesforce transformation initiative and the rapid digitalisation of our operations.
We believe our unique global footprint and extensive partner market relationships provide us with a competitive advantage in selling to select multinational customers, which represent c.20% of divisional service revenues and are managed centrally by our 'Vodafone Global Enterprise' team.
We aim to build on our strength in connectivity to become the partner of choice for local corporate / government customers (which represent c.30% of Business revenues) and for multinationals, leveraging our leading global IoT platform. We are investing in IoT solutions for specific industry verticals, expanding from our current focus on automotive to digital buildings, healthcare and logistics. Together with good growth in IoT connections (which rose 28% in Q2 to 77 million), this supported IoT revenue growth of 14.0%* in H1.
We also see significant future opportunities to gain share as the Wide Area Networking (WAN) market transitions to Software Defined Networking (SDN), which offers large enterprise customers both greater flexibility and significant cost savings compared to legacy products.
For SoHo and SME customers, which represent c.50% of divisional service revenues, we aim to cross-sell fixed and unified communications propositions and also to position Vodafone as an integrator of value added digital and IoT services, offsetting the pressure on mobile prices.
Overall, Vodafone Business service revenues grew by 1.0%* in H1 (Q1: 0.9%*, Q2 1.1%*), led by good growth in Vodacom (4.7%*) and with a stable performance in Europe (0.2%*). Within Europe, Germany and the UK improved, while southern Europe slowed. Fixed revenues, which represent 31.0% of Vodafone Business, grew at 3.9%* (Q1: 3.2%*, Q2 4.7%*), supported by ongoing market share gains in fixed, security and cloud services. Mobile declined by 0.3%* (Q1: -0.1%*, Q2 -0.5%*), as customer growth and IoT gains were offset by ARPU pressure.
The Vodafone Business contribution margin expanded by 90 basis points in H1, reflecting our salesforce transformation initiative.
Emerging Consumer: Driving data penetration, growing digital and financial services
In H1, the Emerging Consumer segment accounted for 16.8% of Group service revenues.
We continue to see significant growth potential in our African and Middle Eastern markets. Data growth remained strong at 18% in Q2, however data penetration is currently still low, with only 22% of our mobile customer base using 4G services, and with smartphone penetration at only 43%. As 4G smartphone costs continue to fall, driving ongoing adoption, we aim to grow ARPU. For example, customers in South Africa typically spend 22% more when moving from 3G to 4G services.
We also see significant opportunity to grow in digital and financial services. M-Pesa, our African payments platform, has moved beyond its origins as a money transfer service, and now provides enterprise payments, financial services and merchant payment services for mobile commerce. Over US$10 billion of payments are processed over the platform every month, across the seven African markets where M-Pesa services are active. We now have 35 million M-Pesa customers, and in H1 M-Pesa grew revenues by 19.4%* to 0.4 billion. M-Pesa represented 12.0% of Emerging Consumer service revenues in H1.
During H1, the Emerging Consumer segment grew at 7.4%*. In euro terms service revenue declined by 9.3%, due to a sharp FX devaluation in Turkey.
Digital Transformation: A new radically simpler, 'digital first' operating model, leveraging Group scale
We see the emergence of new digital technologies, including big data analytics, artificial intelligence agents and robotic process automation (RPA) as a compelling opportunity to transform the Group's operating model and fundamentally reshape our cost base. We are accelerating the implementation of our 'Digital Vodafone' programme, as speed will be a key factor in retaining the benefit of these new technologies.
During H1, we increased the proportion of mobile customers acquired through online channels to 13%, compared to less than 10% a year ago, helping to reduce commissions paid to third party distributors. In fixed, 30% of customer acquisitions are now online. In customer operations, we have deployed our TOBi chatbots in 5 markets, with a further 5 markets due to launch in H2. This contributed to a 10% year-on-year reduction in the frequency of customer contacts to our call centres in H1 (excluding the impact of our commercial repositioning in Spain). In addition, by deploying RPA 'bots' in our shared service centres, we reduced over 900 FTE roles in H1.
In order to gain the full benefit of this 'digital first' approach, we intend to shift towards a radically simpler and more flexible operating model. Over the coming quarters, we will adopt new simplified pricing models across our markets, and will proactively phase out complex legacy pricing structures. Lower complexity will allow both significant savings in IT costs and greater commercial agility. We are also introducing a number of 'digital only' products, starting with 'Vodafone Bit' in Spain, which will have lower commissions and operating costs.
We also see additional opportunities to leverage Group scale. We already have 20,000 employees in our shared service centres in India, Egypt and Eastern Europe, and have centralised over 80% of procurement. Looking ahead, we see further opportunities from centralising European network design and engineering functions, as well as IT operations.
Together with the benefits of our ongoing 'Fit for Growth' programme and zero based budgeting efforts, we expect that the rapid adoption of digital technologies will enable us to reduce operating expenses in our European operations (including Common functions) by at least 1.2 billion on an absolute organic basis by FY21, compared to FY18 levels. In AMAP, operating expenses are expected to continue to grow below local inflation levels, supporting margins.
In H1, we reduced net operating expenses on an organic basis by 0.2 billion in Europe and Common Functions, and by 0.1 billion for the Group overall. For the full year, we aim to reduce operating expenses on an organic basis by 400 million in Europe and Common Functions. This is the third year in a row in which we have reduced our net operating expenses, supporting organic EBITDA margin expansion.
Improving asset utilisation: Capturing synergies, strategic partnerships and creating a virtual TowerCo in Europe
We aim to improve the utilisation of all of the Group's assets as part of our focus on improving returns on capital. We have announced a number of in-market consolidation deals, which we expect to unlock significant synergies. We have a strong track record of delivering or exceeding targeted cost and capex synergies on prior deals, including KDG in Germany and ONO in Spain.
In the Netherlands, VodafoneZiggo has already delivered over one-third of targeted cost and capex synergies, and is on track to achieve its goal of 210 million of annual run-rate savings by calendar 2021 (the fifth full year post closing). In India, we are making a fast start on capturing the US$10 billion NPV of targeted cost and capex savings following the merger of Vodafone India with Idea Cellular. Our announced acquisition of Liberty Global's cable assets in Germany and Central and Eastern Europe ("CEE") targets expected cost and capex savings of 535 million by the fifth full year post completion, with an NPV of 6 billion including integration costs. We will remain highly focused on capturing these significant opportunities for value creation.
We also believe that strategic partnerships are another important potential route towards improving industry returns. We have been successful in agreeing capital-smart partnerships in fixed-line, notably in Italy, the UK and Portugal, and we also intend to explore opportunities for partnerships in mobile, providing that these do not compromise our network differentiation.
In this context, we are creating a virtual Tower company to manage the 58,000 towers in our controlled operations across Europe. This internal vertical organisation will have a dedicated management team solely focused on adding new tenancies and reducing operating expenses. We are also conducting due diligence in order to determine the optimal strategic and financial direction for all of our tower assets, including those held in joint ventures.
Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)