At the dawn of 2018, three African phone-tower companies had dreams of selling shares in London or New York
The most optimistic estimates pegged their potential combined valuation at $15 billion. One by one, their grand plans fell apart.
IHS Towers Ltd., the biggest, was last to put the strategy on hold this week. Potential investors in the Lagos-based company worried about the uncertain outcome of Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election, as well as the drawn-out sale of domestic wireless carrier and IHS customer 9Mobile. Helios Towers Plc and Eaton Towers Ltd., which previously scrapped IPOs, are set to stay unlisted for now.
Industry observers aren’t abandoning hope for another rush to public markets, amid expectations the companies will pursue consolidation to gain scale. The companies’ owners—which include Goldman Sachs & Co., Ethos Private Equity Pty Ltd. and wireless carrier MTN Group Ltd.—are betting that rising African cell-phone use, growing populations and better internet access continues to justify expansion.
“For tower companies to successfully IPO they need a properly balanced and diversified set of assets, reliable anchor tenants and scale,” said Yana Kamburova, a Dubai-based director at telecommunications dealmaker Delta Partners. “The recently failed IPOs of tower companies in Africa will open opportunities for consolidation and or even cross regional transactions.
Investors that might have been spooked by the risk profile of some of the countries where the tower companies operate could get more comfortable if the businesses grow, said Laura Graves, managing director for Africa at advisory firm TowerXchange.
“Should they continue to expand their portfolios and diversify their footprints, this is likely to increase their attractiveness,” Graves said.
So, while the IPO dream may have stalled, the prospect of consolidation means it’s not yet dead and buried.