Telcos to place bids for Tunisie by January 31

LONDON—Thirteen telecoms operators from Europe and Middle East have until January 31 to place a bid for a 35 per cent stake in Tunisia’s state-owned carrier, Tunisie Telecom, sources familiar with the auction said yesterday. The companies, which include some of the top names in the industry, had initially been expected to make offers for a foothold in Tunisia’s most profitable company in early December. But the bid deadline has been extended, sources said.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Sat 22 Oct 2005, 10:24 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 5:39 PM

“The date by which bids have to be received is January 31, 2006,” said one source close to the process.

France’s Vivendi Universal, France Telecom, Spain’s Telefonica and Emirati operator Etisalat were among those to pass initial muster and pre-qualify as potential bidders earlier this month.

Others were Telecom Italia, Portugal Telecom, France’s Bouygues Telecom, Bahrain’s Batelco, South Africa’s MTN, Kuwaiti mobile phone operator MTC, Saudi Oger Telecom, Saudi Telecom and a United Arab Emirate consortium of Tecom, a Dubai IT infrastructure group and the Dubai Investment Group.

Tunisia, which sources have said initially expected to raise about $1.7 billion from the partial privatisation, put 35 per cent of Tunisie Telecom up for sale on August 29 and had hoped to seal a deal by December 13, one source said.

But potential bidders in what is set to be the most valuable privatisation in Tunisian history have yet to start poring over the books of the country’s largest telecoms carrier.

“Due diligence has not yet started, so there’s little anyone will be able to say about the detail of the asset,” the source noted. “But there’s certainly a lot of interest.”

As bidders start queuing to begin due diligence, they are also expected to jostle to form bidding groups.

Sources familiar with the process have said that Telecom Italia may throw its hat in the ring with Saudi Oger, a company with which it already has a joint venture in Turkey, and that Telefonica may team up with Portugal Telecom.

The Saudi Oger-Telecom Italia consortium proved a formidable force in the privatisation of Turk Telekom, which saw cash-rich Etisalat’s joint venture pipped at the finish line. The Dubai Investment Group, Tecom, Batelco and Bouygues, which only has mobile phone experience, may also seek allies if they decide to bid.

Tunisie Telecom, the country’s biggest revenue and profit earner, has about 4.2 million mobile and fixed-line customers in a country of 10 million and controls 72 per cent of the mobile market the kind of growth opportunity long gone in Europe’s mature and competitive markets.

French companies are particularly keen on expanding in Tunisia, which shares their language and whose near neighbour Morocco hosted a spectacularly popular listing of its leading telecoms operator Maroc Telecom, controlled by Paris-based Vivendi, last December.

But Europeans face stiff competition from Middle Eastern rivals. The war chest of Arab firms such as Etisalat have been swollen by an oil-fuelled economic boom in domestic markets, and many are looking to expand abroad. Kuwait’s MTC snapped up young African mobile group Celtel for a hefty $3.3 billion in March.

Tunisie Telecom, which made a net profit of 258 million Tunisian dinars ($192 million) on sales of 1.136 billion dinars last year, enjoys a fixed-line monopoly.

But it competes against Tunisiana a joint venture of Kuwait’s National Mobile Telecom (Wataniya) and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom for mobile phone customers. It also owns a 51 per cent stake in Mauritanian mobile operator Mattel, which has 250,000 subscribers.

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