25 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Econet Struggles to Dispose of MBC Stake

ECONET Wireless Zimbabwe is struggling to attract buyers for its stake in Mutare Bottling Company (MBC) amid indications the mobile phone operator has failed to identify a taker with adequate financial capacity, owing to a high price tag attached to the business.

MBC is owned 69% by Econet through Pentamed Investments (Private) Limited, including a 6% shareholding in the form of convertible instruments.

The company bottles Coca Cola International products. Econet acquired the MBC stake in November 2007 as part of the group's diversification programme. The acquisition of MBC was paid for through a share swap arrangement.

Former Econet Wireless chairman Tawanda Nyambirai in 2011 announced the group's plans to dispose of non-core assets, but insisted the sale of the businesses would be at the right prices.

Analysts say Econet has benefitted from its association with the Coca Cola family as the telecoms company has built its marketing model around the success of what is called the Coca-Cola machine.

Highly-placed sources say the eastern highlands bottling company has been on the market for quite some time as there is no entity with the capacity to take up the shareholding.

High profile businessman Cyril Ramaphosa is said to have shown interest in the business.

While the company is seeking the right price for its stake, sources say there has been no capital injection from shareholders since dollarisation to modernise the bottling plant through upgrades and refurbishments.

When contacted for comment, Econet said MBC was a non-core asset and would be sold but at the right price.

"As such, the company will eventually be sold at a value appropriate to shareholders," Econet said this week. The company would not shed light on what the right price was.

However, market analysts say the only entity capable of purchasing the company is Delta Corporation but because of anti-monopoly laws the beverages maker could not bid for the bottling company. Moreover, the investment by Delta in a new plant in Bulawayo ensures the group has capacity to supply the majority of the country.

At the moment, Delta controls more than 90% of the market in the beverages sector but there is enormous growth potential and room for another player as demand currently exceeds supply.

Delta is the largest capitalised counter on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, accounting for almost a quarter of the value at US$1,38 billion.

Delta has continued its investment in consumer marketing and has expanded its distribution network as well as made further investments towards boosting plant capacity.

Analysts say increasing penetration in rural areas will also contribute to considerable sales increments.

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