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Deutsche Telekom warning spooks investors

22 апреля 2009

Deutsche Telekom surprised investors on Tuesday when it became the first big European telecoms operator this year to issue a profit warning because of the global economic downturn.

DT’s shares fell as much as 10 per cent after René Obermann, chief executive, said adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation would be between €18.7bn and €19.1bn ($24.2bn-$24.7bn) for 2009. Less than eight weeks ago Germany’s leading telecoms company said group ebitda would be €19.5bn.

Mr Obermann said deteriorating economic conditions, tough competition and currency losses had led to disappointing revenue in the US, the UK and Poland, driving first-quarter group ebitda down 5 per cent to €4.5bn.

He admitted that problems in the US and the UK were “also in part structural”, in a statement that could reignite speculation about DT’s operations there. DT’s mobile businesses in the US and UK trail in fourth place behind much bigger rivals.

“Quarter one was a bit more difficult [than expected] and we are therefore a little bit more cautious now” for 2009, said Mr Obermann, noting that economic forecasts were “if anything” looking worse.

DT’s profit warning was a shock to the market, partly because many investors have regarded telecoms operators as a safe haven in the downturn.

In February, DT said it would match its 2008 performance by generating €19.5bn of ebitda and €7bn of free cash flow in 2009. It now expects ebitda to be 2-4 per cent lower than in 2008, and to generate €6.4bn of free cash flow.

DT’s warning dragged down the shares of peers including Spain’s Telefónica, France Telecom and BT of the UK.

Analysts said DT’s main difficulties were in the US, where Verizon Wireless and AT&T, the leading US mobile operators, have established commanding positions over rivals.

Nick Delfas, analyst at Morgan Stanley, said DT’s US business was also being squeezed by smaller mobile operators that were offering cut-price deals to customers.

Mr Obermann said DT was still planning to invest in mobile network equipment based on third-generation wireless technology that would provide US customers with better web browsing on handsets.

DT is planning to install new management at its underperforming UK business. Hannes Wittig, analyst at JPMorgan, said DT’s weakness could prompt it to sell the UK business.

Having dipped to a 52-week low of €8.61 in Tuesday’s trading, the shares recovered slightly to close 7.2 per cent lower at €9.01.

BT is the only other big European telecoms operator to issue a profit warning this year, but the UK company’s problems are not due to the economic downturn.

BT is reeling from failures to cut costs at its subsidiary supplying telecoms networks and related technology to multinational companies.

Источник: Financial Times

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