Etisalat's Nigeria unit in talks over missed loan payments

Senior executive says in discussions with local banks to renegotiate terms of $1.2bn loan

Abu Dhabi-listed telecoms group Etisalat's Nigerian affiliate is in talks with local banks to renegotiate the terms of a $1.2 billion loan it took out four years ago to expand its network in the country after missed payments, a senior executive told Reuters.

Ibrahim Dikko, vice president for regulatory affairs at Etisalat Nigeria, said Etisalat missed payments due to an economic downturn in Nigeria, a currency devaluation there and dollar shortages on the country's interbank market.

"We are in discussions with our bankers and have been for quite a while. They have not taken over the business and we are hoping that we can resolve the issue and find a way to renegotiate terms," Dikko told Reuters.

Emirates Telecommunications Group (Etisalat) owns a 40 percent stake in its Nigerian affiliate, which accounted for around 3.7 percent of the group's revenue in 2013.

Etisalat Nigeria signed a $1.2 billion medium-term facility with 13 Nigerian banks in 2013, which it used to refinance an existing $650 million loan and fund a modernisation of its network.

Dikko said the business performed well last year and it was still in profit at the level of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, while loan repayments had been up to date "until recently".

He said that the company was now looking at "all the options", which could include converting the loan into naira, but did not want to anticipate the outcome of talks with the lenders.

Several other firms took out dollar loans in 2013 to expand at a time Nigeria was seen as an attractive investment prospect. Its economy was growing at 7 percent with a stable currency and oil prices were rising.

But now the country has been running short of dollars as oil revenues have fallen along with the price of crude, pushing the economy into its first recession in a quarter of a century. That has weakened the naira which trades at a lower level on the black market than the official interbank rate versus the dollar.

The dollar shortages have made it difficult for local companies to get access to foreign currency and as a result some have struggled to repay dollar-denominated debts with several lenders having restructured loans to oil firms.

Last month Nigeria's biggest airline Arik Air was placed in receivership by the country's "bad bank" AMCON for unpaid debts of around 147 billion naira.

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