Equity eyes Telkom-K sale with huge interest

By: BRIAN NGUGI

Equity Bank has said it expects to reap bigger from the entry of the Helios Investment Partners into the country’s telecoms sector.

The London-based private equity firm, once the single-largest shareholder in Equity Bank, announced that it had agreed to buy the entire 70 per cent holding of France Telecom in Telkom Kenya at an undisclosed fee.

On Monday, Equity Group CEO James Mwangi said the bank was following closely the development in anticipation of a “deeper business partnership with Telkom Kenya”.

“We hope as soon as they complete the signing of the agreement we could explore a partnership,” said Mr Mwangi in Nairobi.

“Orange Money is powered by Equity, so essentially what we will do is to enhance an already existing relationship,” he said.

Mr Mwangi said Equity would be asking Telkom Kenya to give its mobile money product with the lender “a bigger focus” once the deal is finalised.

The announcement that Helios had agreed to buy Telkom Kenya triggered calls for public disclosure of the terms before the deal is approved.

The government holds a 30 per cent stake after selling its 41 per cent share under questionable circumstances.

In a statement issued on Monday last week, Orange said its decision “reflects its constant focus on optimising its portfolio of assets”.

Helios sold its remaining ownership to the National Social Security Fund, which bought a 5.58 per cent stake in Equity Group in a deal that saw the latter complete its exit from the bank at a massive profit in August.

The latest Communications Authority of Kenya statistics show Equity Bank’s telecoms service, Equitel, is steadily eating into the market share of major players as spending on voice soars.

Market share for Orange and Equitel grew to stand at 11.2 per cent from 10.8 per cent and 2.4 per cent from 1.9 per cent respectively in first quarter.

Safaricom remained flat at 67 per cent, with Airtel losing ground to stand at 19.4 per cent from 20.2 per cent in quarter one.

Helios bought a 24.45 per cent stake in Equity in 2007 for more than Sh11 billion before it divested from the bank last year.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION