Axiata Group slipped to a loss in the final quarter of 2020 due to higher depreciation costs and asset write-offs, but bosses expressed cautious optimism of revenue and EBITDA growth in 2021.

In a statement, president and group CEO Izzaddin Idris said the company “focused on conserving cash mainly via capex efficiencies and disciplined efforts to manage our costs across the group”, and also accelerated the shutdown of its 3G networks to improve resilience.

Idris noted Covid-19 (coronavirus) would remain a burden: “In addition to a fragile macroeconomic environment, the industry will continue to grapple with challenges such as network capacity demand, government-led initiatives and ongoing regulatory uncertainties”.

During Q4 the company recorded a loss of MYR398 million ($98.5 million) compared with a MYR404 million profit in Q4 2019. Revenue was flat at MYR6.26 billion.

Revenue at Malaysian operator Celcom fell 5.5 per cent to MYR1.62 billion and net profit declined 18 per cent to MYR202.3 million due to accelerated depreciation of network assets.

Its Indonesia unit XL posted a 4.3 per cent drop in revenue to MYR1.82 billion and a net loss of MYR486.2 million compared with an MYR36.5 million profit in Q4 2019.

Revenue at Ncell in Nepal dropped 20.9 per cent to MYR371 million on pandemic-related issues and existing business challenges. A net loss of MYR19.2 million compared with a profit of MYR115.1 million, attributed to asset write-offs and higher finance costs.

Group capex in 2020 fell 14 per cent to MYR5.33 billion.