LAGOS, MARCH 16, 2017 – Nigerian banks have opposed a proposal by Etisalat Nigeria to convert part of a $1.2 billion loan from dollars into naira and want Abu Dhabi telecoms group Etisalat and its other shareholders to recapitalise it instead, a source said.
A banker with knowledge of the negotiations told Reuters that the seven-year syndicated loan, on which Etisalat Nigeria missed a payment, has a dollar portion of $235 million which the telecoms operator wants to convert into naira to overcome hard currency shortages on Nigeria’s interbank market.
“Etisalat is asking for us to convert the dollar component to naira but banks don’t want that option and have told them to talk to their parent to settle the loan,” the source said, adding that regulators favoured the conversion.
The UAE’s Etisalat own 45 percent of Etisalat Nigeria, while Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala owns 40 percent of the company, which is due to meet its lenders on Thursday for debt talks mediated by Nigeria’s central bank and the telecoms regulator.
This meeting came about after authorities agreed with local banks to prevent Etisalat Nigeria, which was not available for comment, going into receivership.
Nigeria has been running short of dollars as a result of lower global prices for oil, its major export. It economy entered a recession last year for the first time in 25-years.
Most of the 13 lenders involved in the Etisalat Nigeria loan had raised dollars abroad to participate, meaning that further naira weakness would see them receive fewer dollars.
The currency had lost half of its value since the loan, which matures in 2020, was made. Interest is due monthly and the next principal payment is due in May, the source said.
Etisalat, which generates 3.7 percent of its revenues from the Nigerian business, has questioned the rationale of investing more in it and may sell its stake, sources say.
Etisalat had written down the value of Etisalat Nigeria last year to $50 million due to naira weakness, Moody’s said in a note, adding that the default at the affiliate company did not affect the parent’s credit profile.
Etisalat owes GT Bank 42 billion naira, and Access Bank 40 billion naira. It owed Fidelity Bank 17.5 billion naira, the bank’s investor relations team told Reuters.
Etisalat Nigeria has 20 million subscribers, according to Nigeria’s telecom regulator, making it the country’s number four mobile operator with a 14 percent market share. South Africa’s MTN has 47 percent, Globacom 20 percent and Airtel – a subsidiary of India’s Bharti Airtel – 19 percent.