China Mobile (Hong Kong) Ltd, the world's largest mobile phone operator by users, posted a 27 percent gain in fourth-quarter profit as customers used handsets to download games and send text messages.
Net income rose to 16.7 billion yuan (US$2.08 billion) from 13.1 billion yuan a year earlier, as sales gained 23 percent. Fourth-quarter earnings were derived by subtracting nine-month figures from full-year results released by the Beijing-based company yesterday.
Chief Executive Wang Jianzhou is raising revenue by offering more services such as video downloads and lifting coverage in rural areas, where more than 900 million people live. The company increased its market share in China, the world's fastest-growing major economy, to 66 percent last year from 64 percent in 2004.
"China Mobile seems to be still gaining market share even though they're already the biggest," said Mark Canizares, a Manila-based analyst who covers Hong Kong and China stocks for CitisecOnline. "They're making progress, which means they're good at what they're doing."
The median estimate of six analysts in a Bloomberg survey was for fourth-quarter profit of 14.3 billion yuan. Sales climbed to 66.9 billion yuan from 54.6 billion yuan. Rainie Lei, a China Mobile spokeswoman, declined to confirm the derived figures.
The company said capital spending last year rose to 71.5 billion yuan (US$8.83 billion) from 64.7 billion (US$7.99 billion) in 2004. Spending this year will increase to 83.3 billion yuan (US$10.28 billion).
The 2006 expected capital spending doesn't include investment for the construction of a so-called third-generation network, the company said. The spending budget includes costs to upgrade existing 2.5G networks, Wang said.
China Mobile plans to pay a dividend for 2005 of HK$1.02 (13 US cents) per share, compared with HK$0.66 (8.5 US cents) a year earlier, and proposed a final dividend of HK$0.57 (7.3 US cents) per share, up from HK$0.46 (5.9 US cents) in 2004.
China Mobile, which offers global system for mobile communications, or GSM, services, gained 42.4 million subscribers last year for a total of 246.7 million.
The nation's mobile-phone users will rise to 34 percent of the 1.3 billion population this year from 30 percent in 2005, government data show.
Smaller rival China Unicom Ltd, the country's second-largest mobile operator, which offers services using both the GSM and code division multiple access standards, added a combined 15.7 million users last year for a total of 127.8 million.
Subscriber growth was partly offset by lower spending by each customer. China Mobile's monthly average revenue per customer, or ARPU, an industry measure of the size of a phone bill, fell to 90 yuan (US$11.11) last year, from 92 yuan (US$11.36) in the same period a year earlier.
That's less than the ARPU of 6,920 yen (US$58.20) at Japan's NTT DoCoMo Inc, the world's No 2 cellular operator, in the quarter ended December 31. China Mobile is the world's third-largest mobile operator, while Vodafone Group Plc is the market leader.
China Mobile's lower revenue per user reflects a higher proportion of pre-paid clients, who typically spend less. China Mobile had 185 million pre-paid subscribers and 61.3 million contract users as of December 31.
Chief Executive Wang, 57, is boosting revenue from new businesses such as short-messaging services, or SMS, ringtone downloads and wireless services such as emails and games, which he says will grow this year.
A total of 249.6 billion short text messages were sent last year, compared with 172.6 billion a year earlier. About 206.7 million subscribers used mobile data services in the period, up from 156.8 million a year ago.
Non-voice services made up 20.6 percent of China Mobile's revenue in 2005, or 50.2 billion yuan (US$6.2 billion), compared with 15.5 percent in 2004, the company said.
"In the first half of 2005 they already had 20 percent of their new business revenue coming from non-voice service, and that's a pretty strong base," said Steven Liu, analyst at Core Pacific-Yamaichi, based in Hong Kong. "It means they have already captured demand for data services, and it will be important when their 3G business begins."
During the weeklong Lunar New Year holidays at the end of January, a record 12 billion text messages were sent in China, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
(China Daily March 17, 2006)