In a rather bizarre non-event, trading in MTN shares was suspended for a little over two hours on the JSE on Monday pending an announcement from the company. Trading, however, resumed in the early afternoon with the market having actually learnt nothing new.
The JSE made an announcement at 11.23am that it had halted all trading in MTN shares, with John Burke, director of issuer regulation, noting that trading would resume “as soon as MTN Group has issued a Sens announcement”.
This naturally sparked all sorts of speculation around what the announcement would be, as the market presumed that it would have to be significant to warrant this kind of action. Questions naturally focused on the US$5,2bn fine MTN has been issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and whether there would be some update on that.
At 1.33pm MTN made its much-awaited announcement, but it was entirely without substance:
Further to the [Sens] announcement the company issued on 30 October 2015, where shareholders were advised of the current status of the matter and to exercise caution when trading in the company’s shares, shareholders are further advised as follows:
As per our Sens announcement, the company reiterates that engagements with the Nigerian authorities are continuing and any material developments in these engagements will be communicated to shareholders through Sens.
Shareholders should specifically exercise caution when reacting to information on this matter which has not been released by the company.
Shareholders are therefore advised to continue to exercise caution when dealing in the company’s securities until a further announcement is made.
The JSE followed this with an announcement of its own that trading in MTN shares would resume with a 10-minute re-opening auction at 1.40pm.
The market met this sequence of events with a mixture of bewilderment and displeasure, as it only increased the level of uncertainty around MTN and its Nigerian operations. Investment professional at Old Mutual Equities Philip Short called MTN’s Sens release “a perfect example of no substance”.
“It only makes things worse if you attempt to say something but end up saying nothing,” he said.
Anchor Capital CEO Peter Armitage said that the whole episode was “pretty fuzzy”.
“A share the size of MTN cannot be halted for long,” said Armitage. “Perhaps they felt they could announce something and then got to a point where it was not possible, in which case a general cautionary was the only option. That’s pure speculation, but the sequence of events is even more quizzical.”
JC Louw, the CEO of Contego Asset Management, said that in the past week MTN’s share price has made substantial moves on essentially no new information. From R167 last week Monday, it fell to R154,38 at the close on Thursday, rebounded to R157,80 on Friday, and fell again by more than 6% on Monday to its current levels of under R148.
“Both MTN and the NCC are taking the ‘no comment’ route,” Louw pointed out. “So who are the traders? And if they are investors, why are they trading if no new information is available?”
- This piece was originally published on Moneyweb and is used here with permission