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Svyazinvest deal could allow shakeup, Sistema changes

09 июля 2009

Details emerged Wednesday of a deal that should finally pave the way for a painfully delayed overhaul of Russia's fixed-line telecom networks and could also support ongoing changes at conglomerate AFK Sistema, the biggest private player in the sector.

The Kommersant daily reported that Sistema had agreed with the Russian government to swap a quarter of telecom holding OAO Svyazinvest - plus 50% of a small mobile operator, SkyLink - for 23% of Moscow incumbent OAO MGTS and the cancellation of debts to a state bank.

London-listed Sistema declined to comment on the report, while the Communications Ministry wasn't immediately available.

But the news buoyed shares in Sistema's fixed-line unit OAO Comstar United TeleSystems, which holds the 25%-plus-one-share stake in Svyazinvest and would see its 26 billion rubles ($826.2 million) in debts to OAO Sberbank canceled under the deal.

Analysts said the agreement, which gives the Russian state full ownership of Svyazinvest more than 10 years after it began privatizing it, is favorable for all concerned.

In particular, it allows the government to push ahead with a reorganization of Svyazinvest's seven regional units and Sistema to restructure its own telecom holdings, which include the country's No. 1 cellular provider OAO Mobile TeleSystems, or MTS.

"We see the news as clearly positive for both Comstar and Sistema, as well as Svyazinvest," investment bank UralSib wrote.

"The government may proceed with Svyazinvest restructuring...(while the deal could) facilitate the potential acquisition of Comstar by MTS, which we would also see as a medium-term driver for Sistema and Comstar."

In May, a government committee agreed on basic principles for reorganizing Svyazinvest, which also controls long-distance provider OAO Rostelecom.

Part of that plan envisages strengthening Svyazinvest's foothold in the lucrative mobile segment, where the holding could seek to challenge Russia's three dominant operators: MTS, OAO Vimpel Communications and OAO MegaFon.

Sistema, which at one stage hoped to get control of Svyazinvest, has said a tie-up between MTS and Comstar - where it owns 51%- is under discussion.

Selling that stake to MTS for cash would likely ease concerns over Sistema's debts that have weighed on its stock price this year, analysts say.

At 1215 GMT, Comstar's Global Depositary Receipts were up 4.5% to $4.15 in London
, while Sistema's were down 1.3% at $11.25.

Both were outperforming a 3.5% decline on Russia's benchmark RTS stock index


Источник: Total Telecom

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