Saturday 21 April 2018

O'Brien in 'no rush' to take Digicel dividend

Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg
Denis O’Brien. Photo: Bloomberg
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Businessman Denis O'Brien said he may draw a dividend from his Digicel Group over the next two years, after halting payments for now.

Mr O'Brien last year shelved a share sale, citing volatility in equity markets.

"In the last 18 months, two years we've spent more than than $1bn on capex," Mr O'Brien said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

"It seems out of kilter to be paying a dividend to myself. We probably will in the next year, two years, but there's no rush for that at all."

In April, it was reported that Mr O'Brien had waived about $20m (€17.5m) of cash dividends last year.

Mr O'Brien told Bloomberg that Digicel remains "highly profitable" and plans to keep investing heavily, including through acquiring other businesses.

Mr O'Brien founded Digicel in 2001 and turned it into a mobile-phone empire spread from El Salvador to Vanuatu, partly on the back of high-risk, high-yield debt.

Corporate debt markets are still showing a "little bit of skittishness," he said.

''The market is getting a bit more solid, and looking at every credit for its own particular strengths. We have a great spread of assets.''

The yield on Digicel's April 2022 bond has dropped to 11.4pc from 14.3pc three months ago.

Last October Mr O'Brien pulled the Digicel IPO set for New York in a move that surprised many analysts at home and abroad.

The telecommunications company, which does business in the Caribbean and South Pacific, aimed to sell 142.8 million of Class A common shares at between $13 and $16 each, according to a regulatory filing.

The company, built from scratch by Mr O'Brien after he secured a mobile licence to operate in Jamaica in 2000, had intended to raise between $1.8bn and $2bn (€1.6bn and €1.8bn) on the New York Stock Exchange from the sale of about 39pc of Digicel's equity.

Despite that, Mr O'Brien, who is chairman, would have retained almost complete control of the business.

Mr O'Brien is worth $3.9bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

In the Bloomberg interview, Mr O'Brien also criticised the Government's decision to suspend water charges, saying a plan to set up a commission to examine the issue meant it had been "kicked in the air and down the field".

Irish Independent

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