Telekom Austria eyes deals to be southeast Europe No. 1

VIENNA, July 12 Fri Jul 12, 2013 2:41am EDT

VIENNA, July 12 (Reuters) - Telekom Austria is on the lookout for takeovers in Croatia and Serbia that could make it the leading player in the Balkans, its chief executive told a newspaper, declining to rule out a capital increase.

"I think we have the chance to be the biggest player in southeast Europe and also the most integrated provider in the region," Hannes Ametsreiter told WirtschaftsBlatt in an interview published on Friday.

Buying cable operators and satellite companies has let it offer bundled packages of service that tend to lock in customers, he said, adding: "That is a growth opportunity that others do not have."

He said Croatia's H1 Telekom and Serbia's SBB cable outfit were both interesting assets. Smaller deals could be financed from cash, but larger ones might need a capital increase, he said. "This is not an issue at the moment, but it cannot be ruled out."

He declined to discuss the financial impact of Austria's auction of mobile frequencies later this year, but after two bond issues this year worth 900 million euros ($1.17 billion) he said the group was "very well financed."

Ametsreiter said competition in the Austrian mobile market - where it competes with Hutchison Whampoa and Deutsche Telekom - was still "hard as bone", and he took a swipe at the European Commission's attack on roaming fees.

He said this was weakening every European telecom provider and that he hoped Europe could learn from the United States, where regulation was lighter and investments at record highs.

"If the fixed-line segment in Europe were less strongly regulated it would trigger up to 100 billion euros in investment. It would cost governments nothing but bring a lot. Why they don't do that is a mystery to me," he said. ($1 = 0.7668 euros) (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by David Cowell)

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