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Comstar gains as Q4 net profit, revenue beat forecasts

10 апреля 2009

Russian fixed-line operator boosted by rouble exchange rate; long-distance traffic, broadband subscriptions up.

Shares in OAO Comstar United TeleSystems rose 8% Wednesday after Russian fixed-line telecoms operator's fourth-quarter earnings indicated that it could perform better than expected while the country is in recession.

Comstar, which operates Moscow's phone network and is part of conglomerate AFK Sistema, reported net profit of $59.2 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with $51.8 million in the same quarter a year ago.

That was higher than a poll of five analysts by Dow Jones Newswires, which on average forecast net income of $42.9 million, as many of them had underestimated the company's ability to cut operating costs. The result lifted Comstar's Global Depositary Receipts, which at 1112 GMT traded up 31 cents, or 8.7%, at $3.96.

Revenue fell 2% on the year to $391.9 million due to the depreciation of the ruble against the dollar, but in ruble terms, revenue rose 8%, reflecting growth in long-distance traffic and broadband Internet subscriptions.

"This is the first quarter that I can remember when Comstar hasn't had any one-off," said UralSib analyst Konstantin Belov, adding that Comstar's past results have been distorted by the quarterly revaluation of an option that it issued on its own stock.

Comstar handled one-third more call traffic than in 2007, but this didn't directly boost revenue because the regulator made Comstar lower prices for its Moscow-based subscribers from February, 2008.

"Customers are optimizing their spending on telecoms, but are unwilling to give up usage of communication services," said UralSib in a note.

Comstar Chief Financial Officer Irina Matveeva said it was too early to give guidance for 2009, but the company expected capital expenditure to be "much lower" than in 2008, at around 6% of revenue.

Comstar Chief Executive Sergei Pridantsev joined the company two years ago with a mandate to slash costs. Matveeva said the company was postponing "nonessential expenses" but warned that "savings are not immediate."

Comstar's stock has shed around three-quarters of its value in the past 12 months, but in the past few weeks it has benefited from renewed media reports that it could be acquired by affiliate OAO MTS,
Russia's biggest mobile operator.

Источник: Total Telecom

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