Telenor launches new share buyback after strong second quarter

OSLO Tue Jul 23, 2013 1:46am EDT

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's Telenor (TEL.OL) reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings on Tuesday and launched a new share buyback program to reward shareholders in a company enjoying a rare European telecoms growth story.

State-controlled Telenor, which has around 150 million subscribers across Europe and Asia, said its second-quarter earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 9.8 percent to 8.86 billion crowns ($1.50 billion), slightly exceeding analysts' expectations for 8.77 billion crowns.

The firm maintained its full-year guidance, including 2-4 percent organic revenue growth, as businesses in countries such as Sweden, Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan performed better than expected and after it picked up 5 million new customers.

"Telenor's geographical footprint covers both advanced and growing economies, offering growth opportunities and profitability as demonstrated in the second quarter," Chief Executive Jon Fredrik Baksaas said.

To reward shareholders, it will buy back and cancel 15.2 million shares, or 1 percent of all outstanding stock, worth around $320 million at current prices.

Telenor has been a rare growth story in an otherwise anaemic European telecom sector, thanks to its exposure to fast growing markets in Asia and resilient economies in the Nordics.

It will be among the a handful of firms producing both revenue and EBITDA growth this year and the stock has risen 24 percent over the past year, well outperforming a flat European telecom index .SXKP.

Analysts say the upside is now limited as investors have priced in much of the good news and the stock is trading at a hefty premium with its enterprise value to EBITDA ratio at 6, above an average of 5 for European peers.

(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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