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Bahrain’s Batelco still looking at Zain Saudi stake

CEO says no offer made yet, will buy at right price; Company looking at deals valued at up to $1.5 bln; CEO says difficult to find right deals in current mkt

January 27, 2011 3:37 by

Zain has to sell its 25 percent stake, valued at 2.75 billion riyals ($733 million), in Zain Saudi for regulatory reasons so that it can sell 46 percent of its own stock for $12 billion to UAE telecom firm Etisalat.

The Etisalat deal is championed by Kuwaiti family conglomerate Kharafi group, a major Zain shareholder.

“We don’t want to add to the speculation around Zain KSA but we are looking and will make an offer at the right price,” Chief Executive Peter Kaliaropoulos said in an interview.

The Bahrain operator and South African group MTN have already expressed interest in the Zain Saudi stake. Zain Saudi Chief Executive Saad al-Barrak is eyeing a plan to buy the wider group’s stake in the mobile operator, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Kaliaropoulos said the firm, whose growth plans are built around acquisitions, was finding it difficult to find enough opportunities for doing deals in the current environment.

“We have zero debt and strong cash position but the real challenge is in finding the right deals,” he said.

Batelco is one of the smaller operators in the Gulf Arab region, trying to find a niche besides heavyweights Saudi Telecom Co (STC), Kuwait’s Zain and Emirates Telecommunications (Etisalat).

All operators in the region are wrestling with lower margins at home due to new competition in increasingly liberalised markets and financing costs for acquisitions and new licenses abroad.

On Wednesday, Batelco fourth quarter net profits fell 18.6 percent but were in line with expectations as a loss in market share and start-up costs for its Indian operations hurt full-year results.

(Reporting by Dinesh Nair; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

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