Israel's Partner Comms Q4 profit sinks as price war persists

JERUSALEM, March 10 Mon Mar 10, 2014 6:23am EDT

JERUSALEM, March 10 (Reuters) - Partner Communications , Israel's second-largest mobile phone operator, reported a 55 percent drop in quarterly profit that missed estimates in the face of tough competition that has sent calling rates tumbling.

Net profit slid to 46 million shekels ($13 million) in the fourth quarter from 102 million a year earlier, below an estimate of 49.6 million shekels in a Reuters poll of analysts.

Revenue declined 10 percent to 1.127 billion shekels.

Rates for mobile services have more than halved since the entry of new providers, who offered unlimited calling plans for as little as $25 a month.

The monthly average revenue per user at Partner fell 14 percent to 83 shekels last year.

In 2013, Partner - which operates under the Orange brand name - launched a new 3.5 generation network and invested in a 4G LTE network, which will be deployed in 2014 and become operational once the government allocates 4G frequencies.

"In 2013 we continued to invest in our infrastructure and network ... and information systems, while at the same time facing intense competition in the telecommunications market, which significantly reduced our revenues and profits as a result of substantial price erosion," said Haim Romano, Partner's chief executive.

He said Partner was awaiting progress by Israel's telecoms regulator to create a wholesale market that will allow Partner and others to offer TV and other services by leasing the lines from Bezeq Israel Telecom and cable company HOT.

The Communications Ministry has already established prices companies will have to pay for telephone and Internet infrastructure.

Partner's subscriber base slipped 1 percent to 2.956 million in 2013 to stay behind market leader Cellcom's 3.092 million.

Cellcom last week reported a 9.7 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit, while Bezeq unit Pelephone - Israel's third-largest mobile operator - recorded an 18.7 percent fall.

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