MTN shares fall most in 16 years after saying earnings down 20%

MTN Group Ltd. shares declined the most in 16 years after Africa’s biggest wireless company said 2015 earnings fell at least 20 percent and talks on a record $3.9 billion fine in Nigeria remain unresolved.

The stock fell as much as 16 percent, the most since April 2000, and traded 12 percent lower at 135.37 rand as of 9:31 a.m. in Johannesburg, the lowest since Feb. 11. That snapped five consecutive days of rises through Thursday, and values the mobile-phone company at 251 billion rand ($16.3 billion).

Basic earnings per share excluding one-time items were at least 3.07 rand lower than the 15.36 rand reported in 2014, the Johannesburg-based company said in a statement after the market closed on Thursday. MTN blamed the decline on a loss of business in Nigeria, where regulators withheld services and forced the company to cut off 5.1 million customers.

The company is locked in discussions with the government over a proposed $3.9 billion fine imposed after the wireless operator missed a deadline to disconnect the unregistered subscribers. A Lagos court last month adjourned a hearing called by MTN so the two sides could reach a settlement.

“There remains some uncertainty” surrounding the outcome of the talks, MTN said. The penalty was reduced from an original $5.2 billion in December.

 – Bloomberg