KUALA LUMPUR -- Axiata Group, Malaysia's largest mobile telecommunications operator by revenue, said Thursday its 2017 earnings exceeded projections due to higher data subscriptions and foreign exchange gains.
Net profit jumped 80.4% year-on-year to 909 million ringgit ($232 million), while revenue improved by 13.2% to 24.4 billion ringgit, a record for the group, which has operations in South and Southeast Asia.
The revenue figure surpassed the key performance indicator target of between 8% and 10% growth set for the year ended Dec.31. Growth was recorded across key markets with Celcom, the group's mobile brand in Malaysia, delivering a 0.6% uptick in revenue, thanks to a turnaround initiative to expand network coverage.
At Indonesia's XL revenue rose 11% to 7.4 billion ringgit, supported by data growth of 67%. Revenue at Bangladesh's Robi swelled by 31%, and at Sri Lanka's Dialog by 8%, due to higher data take-up rates. Cambodia's Smart and Nepal's Ncell also reported growth.
Revenue in edotco Group, a telecommunications tower operator, grew by 12%, driven by higher tenancy rates and maiden contributions from Tanzanite, a Pakistani company it acquired last year. The unit owns 16,500 towers and manages nearly 11,000 sites in the region, accounting for 6% of Axiata's total revenue.
The group's net foreign exchange losses were reduced by half to 901 million ringgit, compared to the year before.
But growth in net profit was offset by 450 million ringgit of losses in India's Idea, due to "super aggressive" competition.
Despite the setback, Axiata is upbeat about growth in 2018, setting a lower headline key performance indicator of 6.3% growth.
"We have created a strong momentum and expect our core mobile operations to perform well," said Jamaludin Ibrahim, Axiata's president and group CEO in a statement. He added that the proposed merger of Idea and Vodafone in India will signify a new era, involving significant technical sharing and a non-cash accounting adjustment.
According to India's Economic Times news website, the $23 billion merger proposal, which has received partial regulatory clearance, will create the country's largest telecom group, competing against Reliance Jio Infocomm, owned by energy conglomerate Reliance Industries.
On a quarterly basis, net profit improved to 25 million ringgit in the October to December period, compared to a net loss of 309 million in the corresponding quarter in 2016. The improvement was partly due to foreign exchange gains on financing activities.
Shares of Axiata ended 0.2% lower at 5.67 ringgit per share on Thursday, while the benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI also closed 0.2% lower.