Telcos' shares fall on concerns over new entrant's impact

The selldown
The selldown

Singtel least affected as its exposure to S'pore market is smaller compared to StarHub, M1

Investors sold down shares of Singtel, StarHub and M1 yesterday after the nation's fourth telco operator was announced.

All three incumbents took a hit as investors fretted over their earnings outlook given the arrival of the new kid on the block.

TPG Telecom was named late on Wednesday as the winner of the spectrum rights bid, ending months of speculation.

The rights will start on April 1 next year, and TPG Telecom - an Australian firm - is required to roll out nationwide 4G coverage in the 18 months after that.

The market clearly did not like the news. Singtel shares were least affected, paring 0.8 per cent to $3.73 but StarHub slid 3.1 per cent to $2.81 and M1 sank 3.47 per cent to $1.95.

 

These reactions reflected concerns around earnings weakness and loss of market share among the incumbent players, in a market that already has a mobile penetration rate of around 150 per cent.

DBS analyst Sachin Mittal expects TPG Telecom to gain some 8.5 per cent of mobile revenue share by 2022, while overall revenue share can hit as high as 10 per cent of the market over the same period.

"We project StarHub's earnings to contract by 25 per cent and M1 by 41 per cent in financial year 2022 versus 2015, due to higher revenue share loss," Mr Mittal said in a note yesterday.

As a result, DBS believes StarHub and M1 shares are fully valued - its target price is $2.65 for StarHub and $1.78 for M1.

Singtel will also be vulnerable, but market watchers believe the industry leader is best placed to weather the challenges from the new entrant.

"We expect Singtel's earnings to stay resilient due to limited Singapore mobile business exposure and dominant position with enough scale to help mitigate new entrant impact," OCBC analyst Eugene Chua said in a report last week.

Only around a quarter of Singtel's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation was from Singapore, compared with the 100 per cent exposure to Singapore that StarHub and M1 have.

These factors are important as investors need to adopt a more selective approach to the telco stocks, long seen as stable yield plays around which a portfolio is built.

"In the past, given the defensive business of telcos, we would recommend investors to pick up telco stocks during such pullbacks. That, however, has changed. With the impending fourth telco entry, those with high Singapore exposure are no longer as defensive as they used to be," Mr Chua noted.

OCBC has thus given Singtel a fair value of $4.27 with a buy call. StarHub has a fair value of $3.05 while M1's is at $2.08 - both with a hold rating.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2016, with the headline 'Telcos' shares fall on concerns over new entrant's impact'. Print Edition | Subscribe