Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ
Picture: BLOOMBERG/SUSANA GONZALEZ

Wireless towers operator IHS Holding is exploring a potential initial public offering (IPO), French shareholder Wendel said on Tuesday, in a deal that could be the biggest listing by an African company in the US.

IHS on Friday flagged the listing, saying the timing, number of shares to be offered and price range of the proposed offering are yet to be determined.

Bloomberg News reported in February that IHS Holding had selected Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase & Co as global co-ordinators for a listing that could value Africa’s largest operator of wireless towers at as much as $7bn. At that size, it would be the largest IPO in the US by an African company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Besides Wendel, a French buyout firm, IHS’s owners include Goldman Sachs and MTN. The company revived work on a share sale late last year after scrapping plans back in 2018 due to uncertainty around a presidential vote in Nigeria, its main market, Bloomberg News reported at the time.

The IPO is one of at least two big tower offerings that are in the works. Vodafone said last month that it will list its mobile masts business in Frankfurt next year.

IHS has a portfolio of more than 28,000 towers in countries such as Nigeria, Zambia, Rwanda and Cameroon, together with South America and the UK.

Mobile phone companies have been offloading towers and masts to dedicated infrastructure companies such IHS and its rival, Helios. They then rent back the same, allowing them to raise money to expand their networks and wipe out maintenance costs.

MTN has a 29% holding in IHS Towers, which it may sell in the future. Its Nigeria business leases the majority of the tower and site space required for its network equipment from IHS. As of June, this stake was worth R30.7bn in MTN’s books.

MTN is trying to raise R25bn from the sale of noncore assets. The IHS asset is one of those that the company could capitalise on. In its half year to June, MTN disposed of its holdings in American Tower Company’s Ghana and Uganda operations, receiving R8.8bn in cash.

In February, IHS acquired about 1,600 towers from Zain in Kuwait and 2,300 towers from Cell Site Solutions in Brazil, Peru and Columbia.

MTN said IHS continued to operate under Covid-19 conditions and grew operationally in all markets in the half-year period. However, the macroeconomic environment, particularly in Nigeria, which had been affected by the drop in oil prices and devaluation of the naira, has affected its outlook, said MTN.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za

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