Batelco to snub Mideast for acquisitions


Bahrain Telecommunications Co 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 (Dh14.72 billion) acquisition drive.

The former monopoly in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has come under increasing pressure from regulators and competitors in its home market, and in the next five years sees about 80 percent 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 Officer 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 an 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 per cent 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 5 million from 1.6 million, Kaliaropoulos said.

In Bahrain, which has a population of 1.05 million, Batelco aims to raise user numbers 42 per cent to 1 million, he added.

The company posted a 10.7 per cent 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.

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