Batelco snubs 'overpriced' Mideast

Bahraini telecom shifting focus to Africa, India and Asia-Pacific as part of $4bn acquisition drive.

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By  Mohammed Abbas Published  May 12, 2008

Bahraini telecom Batelco said it is shifting its focus away from the Middle East where assets are overpriced to Africa, India and the Asia-Pacific region as part of a $4 billion acquisition drive.

The former monopoly in the kingdom has come under increasing pressure from regulators and competitors in its home market, and in the next five years sees about 80% of its income coming from foreign operations.

"In the Middle East, the price for acquisitions is very high and the value is not what we're looking for," Batelco Chief Executive Peter Kaliaropoulos told reporters in the Bahraini capital, Manama, on Monday.

In the region, only the Lebanese and Syrian telecoms markets are worth considering, he said. The firm has bid for a mobile phone licence in Qatar.

"Really, in the rest of the Middle East, there's nothing," Kaliaropoulos said. "There are no big opportunities... the big opportunities are in Africa, or India and Asia-Pacific," he said, identifying Malaysia and Indonesia.

Batelco plans at least one acquisition this year.

In October, it said it could spend between $2 billion and $4 billion on acquisitions, of which it could fund $2 billion itself and borrow the rest.

Batelco manages about 3.3 million mobile-phone users, an increase of about 22% compared with the year-earlier period, Kaliaropoulos said. It has operations in Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait and Egypt.

In the next five years, Batelco aims to double its users in Jordan to 2.4 million, and more than triple numbers in Yemen to five million from 1.6 million, Kaliaropoulos said.

In Bahrain, which has a population of 1.05 million, Batelco aims to raise user numbers 42% to one million, he added.

The company posted a 10.7% increase in first-quarter profit to 27.4 million dinars ($72.7 million) - including a one-off gain of 6.8 million dinars from a land sale its weakest profit-growth in a year on higher costs.

RELATED: Batelco profit-growth slows as costs surge

Kaliaropoulos said he did not expect one-off gains or losses in the second quarter. (Reuters)

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