(Sharecast News) - Airtel Africa reported a "resilient" first half on Friday, as its customer base grew 12% to 116.4 million, and revenue on a reported basis improved 10.7% to $1.82bn.
The FTSE 250 telecommunications company said second quarter revenue growth stood at 14.3%.
Growth was reported across all of the firm's regions, with Nigeria up 20.2%, East Africa ahead 21.9% and Francophone Africa rising 4.4%.
It was also seen across all of the firm's services, with voice revenue rising 7.0%, data by 33.4% and mobile money by 30.4%.
Underlying EBITDA was 12.8% higher for the six months ended 30 September, to $812m, while constant currency underlying EBITDA growth was 19.3%.
Airtel's reported underlying EBITDA margin was 44.7%, up by 85 basis points, or 110 basis points in constant currency.
Operating profit increased by 19.5% to $472m, which was an increase of 28.3% in constant currency.
Free cash flow stood at $319m, compared to $210m in the same period last year.
Basic earnings per share totalled three US cents, which was down 52.9%, largely as a result of exceptional items and a one-off derivative gain incurred in the prior year.
Excluding those one-off benefits, Airtel said basic earnings per share would be up 19%.
The board declared an interim dividend of 1.5 cents per share, in line with its new progressive dividend policy to focus on growth opportunities and faster deleveraging.
It said the new policy aimed to grow the dividend annually by a mid to high-single digit percentage, from a base of four cents per share for the 2021 financial year, until reported leverage falls below 2.0x.
"The first half of our fiscal year included the peak impact of the Covid019 pandemic in the countries where we operate, as lockdown measures were swiftly implemented to stem the initial spread of contagion," said chief executive officer Raghunath Mandava.
"In these unprecedented times, the telecoms industry has emerged as a key and essential service for these economies, allowing customers to work remotely, reduce their travels, keep them connected and allow access to affordable entertainment.
"In these exceptional circumstances, in the first half, we delivered a strong set of results and as lockdown restrictions eased during the second quarter, our performance continued to improve with constant currency revenue growth of 19.6%, up 6.6% from the prior quarter."
Mandava said the fundamentals of Airtel's business remained strong, with revenue growth further benefiting from the execution of its strategy with a specific focus on expanding distribution in rural areas, investing in its network, and increasing 4G coverage.
"In the second quarter, performance in our mobile money business also significantly improved with constant currency revenue growth of 33.9%, up 8% from prior quarter, as lockdown restrictions were eased and fees on certain transactions, which had been previously waived, were largely reintroduced.
"We also continued to enter new partnerships with leading institutions such as WorldRemit, MoneyGram, Standard Chartered Bank, and Mukuru to increase use cases and improve customers' access to digital payments and financial services."
Mandava said the company remained alert to the potential for further disruptions from a second wave of Covid-19 across Africa, and the associated actions of governments to minimise contagion.
"Nevertheless, we are in a strong financial position to capture the opportunities in a fast-growing region that is vastly underpenetrated in terms of mobile and banking services.
"We remain confident of delivering long term sustained growth for our shareholders."
At 0948 BST, shares in Airtel Africa were down 3.71% at 62.4p.
TOP NEWS: Airtel Africa earnings jump in year amid growing client base