Telecom Italia Sales Decline Slows as CEO Focuses on Debt

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Telecom Italia SpA, the country’s largest phone company, slowed its pace of revenue decline and reported debt reduction that showed some early results of Chief Executive Officer Marco Patuano’s turnaround efforts.

Fourth-quarter sales dropped 4.1 percent to 5.6 billion euros ($6.4 billion), the Milan-based company said in a statement Friday. That compared with a 9.1 percent decrease reported for the first nine months. Earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization fell 8.4 percent to 2.2 billion euros, in line with analysts’ estimates.

Chief Executive Officer Marco Patuano, seeking to lift Telecom Italia out of junk status, has sold assets to cut its net debt, which stood at 26.7 billion euros at the end of last year -- still more than its 19 billion-euro in market capitalization. The carrier on Thursday announced a plan to buy out its Telecom Italia Media SpA business, a move that would end more than a decade of the unit as a publicly traded company.

Telecom Italia shares, which had gained 16 percent this year through yesterday, fell 0.8 percent to 1.02 euros at 9:03 a.m. in Milan. Telecom Italia Media dropped 1.7 percent to 1.03 euros.

Wireless Merger?

Domestic revenue fell about 5 percent to 4 billion euros during the quarter. Telecom Italia was interested in buying a controlling stake in closely held broadband carrier Metroweb SpA. Talks have stalled however because of disagreements over the ownership structure, people familiar with the matter said this month.

Italy’s wireless market of four network providers is one of Europe’s most competitive. Countries including Germany, Austria and Ireland have seen consolidation that cut their number of national carriers to three.

Italy may be catching up. Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. has intensified negotiations to merge its 3 Italia mobile carrier with VimpelCom Ltd.’s Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA, people familiar with the matter said this week.

Patuano will hold a press briefing today in London to discuss earnings and a new business plan. In Brazil, Telecom Italia controls the nation’s second-largest wireless carrier, Tim Participacoes SA. Revenue at the unit declined about 2 percent during the quarter.

Last November, Telecom Italia directors authorized managers to explore a transaction between Tim and smaller rival Oi SA, a deal that would shake up Brazil’s phone market.

(Updates with shares in fourth paragraph.)
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