UPDATE 2-Belgacom warns of 2013 profit drop, shares hit new low
* 2012 core profit 1.784 bln euros vs 1.796 bln expected
* Sees core profit down 4-6 pct in 2013
* To pay interim dividend of 0.50 euros in December 2013
* No full dividend outlook due to limited visibility
* Other European telecom firms have already cut dividends (Adds share price reaction, analyst, CFO comments)
By Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS, March 1 (Reuters) - Telecoms group Belgacom warned its core profit would drop this year due to increasing competition in Belgium and Europe-wide regulatory caps on charges, driving its shares to a new all-time low.
The Belgian company, which usually gives a dividend outlook for the next year, also said on Friday it could not give guidance for 2013 dividends overall, although it expected to pay an interim dividend of 0.50 euros per share, lower than a year earlier.
European telecoms operators have been hit by a toxic mix of regulatory caps, stiffening competition and consumer shifts to services such as free Internet calls, while they have faced high costs for investments and licences such as new fourth-generation networks.
Belgacom, once a state-owned monopoly, said core profit (EBITDA) would drop by 4 to 6 percent in 2013, following a steeper-than-expected decline in 2012.
"If you did the average, 5 percent, EBITDA would go down by around 90 million euros. More than half of that is caused by regulation," Chief Financial Officer Ray Stewart told a press conference.
Regulatory limits on call charges will reduce 2013 core profit by 53 million euros, the company estimated.
In the Belgian mobile market in particular, competition increased after cable operator Telenet introduced new offers in 2012, which doubled its mobile customer base.
In its consumer unit, Belgacom lost 37,000 customers with a mobile contracts and 68,000 with prepaid cards in the final quarter of 2012 as people switched to cheaper services.
Its shares fell as much as 8.3 percent to 19.63 euros, making them the second-weakest performers in the FTSEurofirst 300 index of leading European stocks. It was the lowest point since Belgacom listed in March 2004.
"The combination of the outlook and them losing more customers than expected is why people are negative on the stock today," said Marc Hesselink at ABN Amro, who has a top rating on StarMine and a "hold" recommendation for Belgacom.
Sector peers such as Deutsche Telekom, Dutch KPN and Telekom Austria have already slashed their dividends for 2012.
For 2012, Belgacom is proposing a final dividend of 1.68 euros per share, on top of the 0.81 euros it had already paid in December 2012, in line with expectations.
The group reported a 6.7 percent fall in 2012 core profits (EBITDA) to 1.784 billion euros ($2.35 billion), less than the average 1.796 billion euros expected in a Reuters poll of 12 analysts and even just below the lowest forecast. ($1 = 0.7649 euros) (editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Jane Baird)
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