Monday, February 4, 2008

Singapore Telecom Third-Quarter Underlying Net Gains on India

By Andrea Tan

Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., Southeast Asia's largest telephone company, said third-quarter profit rose 22 percent after one-time gains, as earnings from India and Indonesia soared.

Underlying profit jumped to S$931 million ($658 million), or 5.86 cents a share, in the three months ended Dec. 31, from S$765 million, or 4.82 cents, a year earlier, the company, known as SingTel, said in a statement today. Sales gained 11 percent to S$3.83 billion.

Chief Executive Officer Chua Sock Koong benefited from a 15- year strategy by her predecessor to invest in developing economies, as growth slowed in Singapore and Australia, the company's biggest market. Indian affiliate Bharti Airtel Ltd. reported record net income, while PT Telekomunikasi Selular accounted for more than a fifth of SingTel's profit in the quarter.

``What SingTel has going for it is experience,'' said Bruno Lippens, who manages about $7 billion in telecom stocks, including SingTel shares, at Geneva-based Pictet & Cie. ``It's built up a track record and credibility and this gives it an edge over some competitors.'' Lippens made the comments before earnings were reported.

The median underlying profit estimate in a Bloomberg survey of six analysts was S$939 million. Net income dropped to S$952 million or 5.99 cents, from S$994 million, or 6.26 cents, a year earlier, because of a currency loss and absence of a one-time gain.

SingTel shares rose 2.3 percent to A$3.06 in Sydney trading at 10:35 a.m. local time, while the Singapore-listed stock gained 0.8 percent to S$3.86 yesterday, narrowing the year's loss to 3.5 percent.

SingTel ``continued its impressive growth momentum,'' Chua said in the statement. ``Our regional mobile associates continued to deliver good profit and dividend growth.''

Gained Users

The phone operator gained 13.6 million mobile users during the quarter, bringing its total to 171.5 million subscribers in eight markets. Net income at regional units climbed 34 percent to S$492 million, the fastest in five quarters.

PT Telekomunikasi Selular, 35 percent owned by SingTel, contributed S$223 million to SingTel's earnings, the largest portion from its units. Indonesia's biggest mobile-phone operator, known as Telkomsel, last month said its users rose 34 percent in 2007 for a total of 47.89 million.

The contribution from Bharti Airtel, India's biggest telephone company, climbed 50 percent to S$193 million after the operator added users in rural areas.

Earnings at Sydney-based SingTel Optus Pty rose 5.9 percent to A$143 million ($130 million), while sales increased 3.6 percent to A$2 billion.

Facing Competition

In Singapore, SingTel gained a record 197,000 users, bringing its total to 2.33 million customers in a market where the number of subscriptions exceeds the 4.6 million population. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization rose 6.1 percent to S$482 million, while sales advanced 11 percent.

The company kept its full-year guidance for sales in Singapore to rise by a ``single-digit'' percentage.

SingTel faces competition for regional assets from Telekom Malaysia Bhd and Vodafone Group Plc., based in Newbury, England, as the operators seek growth outside saturated home markets.

Telekom Malaysia, the country's biggest phone operator, has bought stakes in mobile carriers in nine countries including India and Indonesia. Vodafone, the world's largest mobile-phone company, expanded in Turkey and India to offset slowing growth in Europe.

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