A Diversification Strategy With a Purpose: Singtel's Regional Expansion

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1 Research Brief A Diversification Strategy With a Purpose: Singtel's Regional Expansion Abstract: In the late 1990s, Singtel faced huge challenges. The company decided to develop an ambitious diversification strategy aimed at stabilizing its business, improving its cost structure and creating new sources of profit growth. By Bertrand Bidaud Recommendations Strategic plans must be based on the initial analysis of the company strengths and weaknesses. Implementation of strategic plans must be done with a focus on the key metrics. Publication Date: 13 January 2003

2 2 A Diversification Strategy With a Purpose: Singtel's Regional Expansion Challenges Galore In 1998, Singtel, a successful telecom monopoly with a 49 percent operating margin, was threatened by the following challenges to the environment in which it operated: Heavy reliance on a market under pressure International telephony represented 41.4 percent of revenue; too high for comfort considering prices of international communications were expected to fall (and they did). Growing competition Starhub was granted the second license for telecom services that year. Even though full liberalization was not expected until 2002, the government of Singapore suddenly decided in 2000 to open the market to competition ahead of schedule, further threatening Singtel's revenue and profit balance. Heavy dependence on the single, small market of Singapore. As the 1997 Asian crisis illustrated, no country is immune from economic problems, and the Singapore economy can swiftly go into recession even though it has historically gotten out of them relatively fast. Last but not least, a domestic market reaching saturation, leaving no hope for significant growth in either profit or revenue Such downside potential called for a bold strategic plan. A diversification strategy was conceived with two main strategic objectives (for details, please see Mike Harris' upcoming perspectives on a diversification framework for the telecommunications industry): Achieve operational efficiency and synergies through increased scale Manage a portfolio of products to sustain a predictable, growing revenue stream Almost five years into the plan, Gartner Dataquest believes Singtel's clear strategy is starting to bear fruit. Singtel's International Expansion Over the past 12 years, Singtel has invested S$20 billion abroad. As Figure 1 illustrates, the pace and scale accelerated dramatically after 1998.

3 3 Figure 1 Singtel International Investment S$ Million 20,050 20,000 Optus Telkomsel Bharti C2C NCIC 5,000 2,500 Belgacom AIS 1, Shin Datacom Globe Total S$20 Billion Source: Singtel (January 2003) It is noteworthy that these investments focused mostly on mobile businesses, the exceptions being the C2C Undersea Cable Network and Taiwan's fixed-line carrier New Century InfoComm (NCIC). Gartner Dataquest's analysis focuses on the investments in cellular carriers, the cornerstone of Singtel's overseas strategy. We can clearly differentiate the rationale driving these investments, depending on the market maturity level (see Figure 2) using these criteria: Contributions to overall growth and stability Investments in Bharti (India), Telkomsel (Indonesia), AIS (Thailand), Globe (Philippines) and to some extent Optus (Australia) Achieving operational efficiency and synergies Optus (Australia) mostly Investment in Belgacom took place before current strategy was formulated, and Gartner Dataquest believes that it has no more strategic value. We do not regard it as part of the industrial strategy outlined in this analysis (as a nonstrategic asset, Gartner Dataquest believes that Singtel would be willing to divest its share in Belgacom if the opportunity arose).

4 4 A Diversification Strategy With a Purpose: Singtel's Regional Expansion Figure 2 Mobile Communications Penetration in Markets in Which Singtel Invested Market Penetration Growth Contributor Operational Efficiency and Synergies Australia Singapore India Philippines 64% 72% India 1% Indonesia 4% 16% 20% Time Source: Gartner Dataquest (January 2003) Growth and Stability Contributors The Growth Story India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are expected to provide profit growth for the next few years. Thailand and the Philippines have already entered a period of fast growth, with Thailand being Asia/Pacific's fastest growing cellular market, its connection numbers growing quarter on quarter by 27.2 percent (see Asia/Pacific and Japan Cellular Market: 2Q02 Review). India is still in the development phase, requiring more investment before generating significant profits. Investment in Bharti will provide growth in the coming years as the Indian cellular market expands In 2000, the Indian market had only 3.6 million connections, a figure that reached 9.5 million connections at the end of Gartner Dataquest expects it to reach 43 million at the end of 2006 (see Figure 3).

5 5 Figure 3 Addressable Markets in Which Singtel Invested Millions of Connections India Indonesia Philippines Thailand Australia Singapore Belgium Source: Gartner Dataquest (January 2003) The long-term value of investment in Telkomsel of Indonesia depends on that country's political stability. Limited economic growth in Indonesia means that market potential is currently hampered, but Gartner Dataquest estimates that at the end of 2002, the number of connections will be 9.28 million and that by the end of 2006 it will be 21.9 million. An analysis of profit contributions illustrates the growing importance of the Asia/Pacific-affiliated companies for Singtel earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). These Asia/Pacific affiliates contributed less than 5 percent of EBITDA for the fiscal year ending in March 2001 but slightly more than 20 percent for the six months ending in September 2002 (see Figure 4).

6 6 A Diversification Strategy With a Purpose: Singtel's Regional Expansion Figure 4 Asia/Pacific-Affiliated Companies' Contribution to Singtel EBITDA Percent Bharti Telkomsel Globe AIS Six Months Ending September Source: Gartner Dataquest (January 2003) It is also easy to see why diversification could never provide an optimized structure: While Bharti will provide higher contributions to profits tomorrow, it is cash-hungry today. In fact, it still takes a loss. Yet without Bharti, profit growth is less sustainable over time as other affiliates operate in markets further along the path of maturity (and possible profit stabilization). The Search for Stability Singtel also developed a portfolio of services and firms that help it balance its revenue better than in 1997 to In particular, Singtel's development of public data and private networks, as well as the investment in Optus, helped diversify revenue both in terms of geography and product mix and reduce its reliance on international telephony (see Figure 5).

7 7 Figure 5 Singtel Revenue Mix Percent 100 Others to to 2003 National Telephony International Telephony Public Data and Private Network Mobile Communications Source: Singtel Annual Report 2001/2002 At the group level, Optus balances the geographic revenue split: Singapore contributed to "only" 49.4 percent of the revenue in 2001 to 2002 (Australia being the second largest market, accounting for 24 percent). In terms of segmentation, Optus' acquisition added more than S$1.1 billion to Singtel's own mobile revenue (S$903 million). At the Singtel corporate level (excluding subsidiaries, joint ventures and affiliates), mobile communications contributions to revenue remained almost constant (18 percent in 2001 to 2002 compared with 16.3 percent in 1997 to 1998) but became the first revenue contributor at the group level. It is easy to see that the revenue mix will provide more stability than in 1997 to 1998 when a single (declining) segment accounted for 41.4 percent of the total. This comes at a price, though, because the structure is neither optimized for profitability or growth but a compromise to balance both growth and stability. Operational Efficiency and Synergies With the Singapore market saturated and a dominant position challenged by new players, revenue cannot grow much, if at all. The alternative to growing profits (or sustaining them) is to lower costs. This is where most positive results from the Optus acquisition are expected. Optus investment depreciated the high Singtel operational EBITDA margins from 52.9 percent in 2001 to 41.7 percent in This margin depreciation led to questioning the value of the investment. But the margin was bound to depreciate nonetheless, because it was abnormally

8 8 A Diversification Strategy With a Purpose: Singtel's Regional Expansion high. The issue is whether Optus investment will help sustain greater margin than would have been achieved otherwise, and if so, when and by how much? A look at historic operating revenue and expenses (Figure 6) confirms that both moved in tandem since 1997: When the demand grew as in 1998, operating expenses grew to meet the demand. As the demand slowed, savings were achieved. As illustrated in 2002, as demand stabilized, operating expenses were stable. Such a tandem evolution is typical of a company that already performs tight management control of operating expenses. But it also illustrates a more fundamental point: Unless the cost structure changed, savings could only be marginal. These structural changes were needed. Figure 6 Singtel Company Operating Revenue vs. Operating Expenses 3,500 3,000 2,500 Operating Revenue Operating Expenses 2,000 1,500 1, Source: Gartner Dataquest (January 2003) To reduce its cost of doing business, Singtel needed in particular to develop its own infrastructure (and launch C2C). But to justify the infrastructure, it needed scale. Singapore did not provide the scale; the region did. Lowering the cost of traffic became a priority. In the short term, the acquisition of Optus changed the cost structure of the group in particular, traffic expenses that amounted to 19 percent of operating revenue (against 13 percent for Singtel alone). But watch this space: Gartner Dataquest believes that as scale benefits kick in, this ratio will be broughtdownwithinlessthanfiveyears.

9 Joint procurement (of equipment and handsets) offers another source of savings provided by scale. Singtel and its affiliated companies represented at the end of the third quarter of 2002 a total of 29 million subscribers across Southeast Asia, India and Australia. The business benefit of these synergies is sometimes hard to quantify, though, in particular when it is used for improved competitiveness. But Singtel indicated that savings through joint procurement amounted to: S$40 million savings in the 12 months of fiscal year 2001/2002 S$25 million estimated for the first six months of fiscal year 2002/2003 In fiscal year 2001/2002 capital expenditure (CAPEX) excluding C2C was S$677 million. Savings amounted to 5 percent of CAPEX, a percentage that is growing to 13 percent for the first six months of fiscal year 2002/2003 (CAPEX for the first six months was a mere S$163 million). When CAPEX/revenue ratios at Singtel return to a more sustainable level (higher than in the latest period reported), the impact will make a difference, in particular when third-generation mobile infrastructure is implemented. But limits to cost efficiencies are quickly reached for minority shareholders who do not exercise operational control. To drive maximum synergies, ownership is required, which has been achieved only with Optus. Singtel estimated that integration synergies between Optus and Singtel would provide in the financial year savings of S$300 million, roughly the same as the contribution to profits coming from associated firms and joint ventures in the last fiscal year. 9 Gartner Dataquest Perspective There is no magic formula in what Singtel is doing. There are also significant risks that these investments, though strategically sound, may turn out to be financially disappointing, because they rely on an improved political landscape in some cases (Indonesia), continued reform in others (India) or the ability to draw huge-scale benefits in others (Optus in particular). But when we add the potential for a growing source of profits in emerging markets, a better balance between revenue portfolio and savings provided by scale, positive momentum is being built. When compared to metrics identified for the strategic objectives pursued (see Mike Harris' upcoming perspectives on creating a framework for the telecommunications industry), Gartner Dataquest believes that key milestones have been achieved, even though much remains to be done in relation to the recent acquisition of Optus. See Table 1.

10 10 A Diversification Strategy With a Purpose: Singtel's Regional Expansion Table 1 Metrics Related to Singtel Strategic Objectives Strategic Objective Achieve operational efficiency and synergies through increased scale Manage portfolio of products to sustain predictable, growing revenue stream Source: Gartner Dataquest (January 2003) Metrics Quantifiable reductions in sales, general and administrative and operations expense Products/markets are arrayed along the life cycle to ensure steady pipeline of growth No revenue and/or profit dependency on a single product or service The strength of the approach is to be based on the initial analysis of company strengths and weaknesses and on plan implementation with an eye on the key metrics. This direct link between Singtel core business and the strategy is clear and should always be. Key Issue Should telecommunications providers diversify or focus to improve financial performance? This document has been published to the following Marketplace codes: TELC-WW-DP-0278 For More Information... In North America and Latin America: In Europe, the Middle East and Africa: In Asia/Pacific: In Japan: Worldwide via gartner.com: Entire contents 2003 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this publication in any form without prior written permission is forbidden. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof. The reader assumes sole responsibility for the selection of these materials to achieve its intended results. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice

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