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Telcos hunker down for 2009 amid financial turmoil

25 ноября 2008

For major telecommunications companies, 2009 will mean continued vigilance on costs and only small-scale, targeted acquisitions, with companies with exposure in still-growing emerging markets likely to fare better than their rivals as they hunker down to confront the wider economic storm.

Companies gathered in Barcelona this week for the annual Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecommunications conference delivered the same message time and again, and it was far more somber than a year ago when growth prospects were more robust.

"It's a continuous effort," said Vittorio Colao, chief executive of Vodafone Group PLC, referring to the company's GBP1 billion cost-savings plan.

Earlier in November, Colao outlined his new strategy for Vodafone - the world's largest mobile operator by revenue - to weather the global downturn. This included implementing a program to cut costs by GBP1 billion by 2011.

Colao also highlighted the continued growth opportunities in emerging markets and, for operators, the need to benefit from the increase in mobile data as call and messaging revenue gets squeezed by tighter regulation.

Earlier this month at its half-year results, Vodaphone announced its emerging markets division's total revenue grew 25.7% in the six months to the end of September compared with the same six-month period in 2007, to GBP5.4 billion. The growth was driven by the group's 2007 Indian acquisition, while organic growth was 8.8%, with strong growth in
South Africa and Egypt offsetting a weaker performance in Turkey.

The chief executive of Dutch telecom operator Royal KPN NV, Ad Scheepbouwer said that, thanks to aggressive cost savings, the company should maintaining margins in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in excess of 35% for the forthcoming year and beyond.

Merger and acquisition activity, meanwhile, looks to have stalled over the medium term, bar small-scale buys, for all operators.

Didier Bellens, chief executive of Belgium's dominant telecommunications company Belgacom SA, said Wednesday that the company could no longer depend on a debt capacity of EUR5 billion to spend on an acquisition.

The company said last year it would consider spending as much as EUR4 billion to EUR5 billion on the right deal, but now,"the EUR4 billion to EUR5 billion is no longer available in the market," Bellens said."We still have a very strong balance sheet but you can forget about the EUR5 billion."

France Telecom SA, meanwhile, may now be thankful that it abandoned an unpopular bid for Swedish operator
TeliaSonera AB earlier this year.

Since then, said France Telecom chief financial officer Gervais Pellissier, the company's view on the attractiveness of some emerging markets, such as Turkey and Russia where TeliaSonera has assets, has changed in light of the economic downturn.

Telecom businesses in some emerging markets are at greater risk than they were five months ago, he said. But, nevertheless, it's continued growth in these markets that is providing some cushion to flat or declining revenue elsewhere.

's Telefonica SA, the world's third largest telecommunications company by market value, said Thursday that, despite a worsening economic backdrop, its business is holding up in its key markets of Spain and Latin America.

"The future of Latin American markets is strong, it's still a growth story going forward," Telefonica's Chief Financial Officer Santiago Fernandez Valbuena said.

Telefonica derives roughly one third of its revenue from
Spain and another third from Latin America.

BT Group PLC offered perhaps one of the biggest surprises at the conference, as chief executive Ian Livingston said the company would pay a "very strong" full-year dividend, despite ongoing cost-containment issues at its Global Services business and the uncertain macro outlook.

"The dividend doesn't have to be covered by cash flow,"
Livingston said.

"Some analysts are saying that it might not be covered by cash flow, but who cares? The important thing is for it to be sustainable in the long term," he said.

At its second-quarter results Nov. 13, BT maintained its interim dividend at 5.4 pence a share, in line with last year, but analysts had expected the company to cut its full-year dividend as problems at its Global Services division hurt cashflow.

Last year, BT raised its full-year dividend 5% to 15.8 pence a share.

also said Friday that the company had a lot of flexibility on its capital expenditure budget, and that it might not make long-term sense to cut this.

"We can expect more cost saving on opex (operating expenditure) than capex," he said."We don't expect a huge change in the capex budget next year."

Источник: Total Telecom

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