NII Streamline Strategy Goes Too Far

NII Holdings , the parent company for Nextel's Latin American operations, released its preliminary results for 2 012 earlier this week. Chairman Steve Shindler described the results as ' [falling] short of expectations ' and outlined proposals to streamline the business, including the potential sale of assets in Peru, Chile and Argentina, in order to focus on its core markets in Brazil and Mexico. BMI supports the initiatives in its 2013 strategy but cautions against a swift exit from its operations in Chile and Argentina .

Nextel's strategy in Latin America has been to focus on high - end users, offering postpaid contracts in urban areas to businesses as a niche player. This allows the company to generate m ore revenue from its users , resulting in traditionally higher ARPUs in these markets than its competitors. It also means the subscriber base is lower because it does not expand infrastructure to rural or income-challenged areas. This strategy has achieved its greatest success in Brazil and Mexico, helped by the rapid economic growth these two markets have experienced in recent years. In Q312, operational revenues from Brazil and Mexico accounted for 81.5% of the total for the region, and 70.4% of the overall subscriber base. BMI expects growth to rebound in Brazil in 2013, after a slowdown in 2012, and we remain optimistic on Mexico's long-term prospects.

Nextel KPIs Q312
Operating Revenue & ARPU (US$)/Total Subscribers ('000)

BMI is in favour of NII Holdings' decision to sell 4,500 tower assets in Brazil and Mexico, as we have long held the view that operators can substantially reduce costs through sale and leaseback arrangements from tower companies. This trend is becoming more prominent in Latin America, and Telefónica has led the way in this strategy, reducing its tower portfolios in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru ( see our online service, December 24 2012, ' Telefónica Taking The Lead In Tower Sharing ' ). As mobile operators face problems of market saturation and slowdown in growth, it has led to ARPU levels falling and lack of opportunities to increase subscriber numbers. As a niche company, Nextel has experienced this in Brazil and Mexico, where ARPU has declined 31.2% and 15.2% respectively, between Q311 to Q312.

As the company does not wish to grow subscriber numbers by expanding its infrastructure footprint, it must ensure it offers the best services in its limited markets, particularly with 3G. In Brazil, its 3G services were only released in December 2012, far behind rival operators due to Nextel's later entry into the market. Future success will hinge on its plans to upgrade these facilities in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and key markets in Mexico as data looks to be the key driver of growth.

NII Holdings is already believed to be in talks regarding the sale of its Peruvian Nextel unit to Chilean operator Entel ( see ' Entel Should Look Elsewhere For Regional Expansion ,' January 8 2013 ). Peru's poor growth prospects indicate that the sale of assets would be a good move for NII, as its niche strategy is unlikely to be met with real success. However, BMI believes it is too early to withdraw from Chile and Argentina, as they rank seco nd and thi rd respectively in our regional Risk / Reward Ratings . Uptake in 3G has experienced particular success in these markets, with room for growth still possible for smaller players. Both Chile and Argentina have auctions for 4G spectrum scheduled for 2013, with our forecasts indicating that 4G LTE services will have a significant impact among Nextel's target demographic. This will not be the case in Peru, where income and 3G demand remains low, but remaining in Chile and Argentina could prove beneficial over the long-term.

This article is tagged to:
Sector: Telecommunications
Geography: Argentina, Latin America, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Latin America, Latin America

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