Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- France Telecom SA may spend about $2 billion to buy most of billionaire Naguib Sawiris’s stake in their Egyptian wireless venture and delist the operator.
France’s largest telecommunications company reached a preliminary agreement with Sawiris’s Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE over Egyptian Co. for Mobile Services, the operator known as Mobinil, at 202.5 Egyptian pounds ($33.54) a share, it said today. That’s 8.7 percent less than the price it would have paid under an earlier option agreement with Sariwis. France Telecom will offer the same price for Mobinil shares traded on the Cairo exchange. Mobinil jumped by a daily limit of 10 percent today.
France Telecom is refocusing its business on fast-growing emerging markets as mobile revenue in Europe stalls. The Paris-based company has announced the sale of its units in Switzerland and Austria, and in the past two years struck deals to enter Morocco, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“In the long run, Africa should be an interesting story,” said Tarkan Cinar, an analyst at WestLB AG. “In the short term there is a risk of extra capex, because we don’t know what investments France Telecom will have to make in Egypt to renew any damaged infrastructure.”
Sawiris plans to retain a 5 percent “economic interest” in the Cairo-based operator, France Telecom said today. The Mobinil shares France Telecom aims to take over are valued at 11.9 billion Egyptian pounds ($2 billion) based on the offer price. If the public tender succeeds, Mobinil will be delisted.
Mobinil, which competes with Vodafone Group Plc’s local unit, rose 10 percent to 137.89 pounds at 12:27 p.m. in Cairo. France Telecom added 0.2 percent to 11.27 euros in Paris.
As part of a settlement in April 2010, Sawiris gained an option to sell his stake in the operator to France Telecom during certain periods beginning in September 2012, at a price that would increase over time from 221.7 Egyptian pounds per share later this year to 248.5 pounds next year.
Orascom holds a 20 percent stake in Mobinil, while about 29 percent is traded on the Cairo stock exchange. The holding company controlled by France Telecom and Orascom owns the rest.
France Telecom owns about 71 percent of Mobinil Telecom Co., the holding company, while Orascom owns the remainder. Orascom confirmed the agreement in a separate statement today.
In 2010, France Telecom Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard set a goal of doubling emerging market revenue by 2015, from about 3.3 billion euros ($4.4 billion) in 2009. Revenue in Egypt has suffered as the economy stalls following last year’s violent ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak and subsequent clashes between pro-democracy activists and the interim military government.
Still, the country -- the Arab world’s most populous, with more than 80 million inhabitants -- is among the largest developing economies in which France Telecom has a presence, and represents a key part of its Middle Eastern strategy, which includes operations in Jordan, Tunisia, and Bahrain.
For his part, Sawiris has become an important political figure in post-revolution Egypt, founding the pro-business Free Egyptians political party and criticizing Islamist influence in politics. He has recently pursued investments in Switzerland, where he bid for France Telecom’s local unit, and Austria, where he has teamed with investor Ronny Pecik to take a more than 20 percent stake in Telekom Austria AG.
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