Kuwait's Zain eyes $4bn acquisitions by 2010

Third-largest Arab telecoms company looking to expand in Africa and Middle East.

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By  Ulf Laessing and Rania El Gamal Published  November 6, 2008

Kuwait's Mobile Telecommunications Co (Zain) plans to make four to five acquisitions worth up to $4 billion before 2010 with the global credit crisis depressing asset prices for telecom firms, its chief executive said.

Zain would seek to expand in Africa and the Middle East by buying majority stakes in companies or acquiring licences, Saad al-Barrak told the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit being held this week in Kuwait and Dubai.

The third-largest Arab telecoms firm - which already operates in 22 countries - is looking at opportunities in South Africa, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mozambique, Yemen, Syria and even Zimbabwe, a country ravaged by economic chaos and the world's highest inflation.

"That's the whole point ... Wherever there is danger there is opportunity, so you find us always swirling around danger," he said, when asked whether Zain could buy a Zimbabwe operator.

"In view of the current situation we have $3 to $4 billion in mind over the next 12 months," Barrak said late on Wednesday, alluding Zain could spend even more as it was keen to enter the "rest" of the Middle East where it was not active yet.

Up to $4 billion would be a "worst scenario in light of the credit crisis", he said. "We have bigger ambitions than that."

Zain would seek to buy 60 percent of its acquisition targets, but at least 51 percent, and would also consider moves into Asia from 2011 as part of plans to become one of the top 10 telecom operators in the world, Barrak added.

"Asia was always on our radar but we were too busy ... Still areas of great interest to us are Iran, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand," he said.

"We are focusing now on our priority in the Middle East and Africa were we want to become the absolute number one," he said.

Zain also planned to spend $2.5 billion in 2009 on general capital expenditures such as upgrading networks or investing, down from $3 billion this year, Barrak said.

To finance its growth, Zain would need to borrow $1.5 billion to $2 billion which Barrak is was confident of getting despite the credit crisis, he said.

It already raised $4.5 billion through a rights issue in September despite a bourse slide. (Reuters)

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