UPDATE 1-UAE's Etisalat to sell W.African business for $650 mln

Mon May 5, 2014 4:51am EDT

* Etisalat selling W. African business to Maroc Telecom

* Deal depends on Etisalat's purchase of Maroc Telecom stake

* Maroc Telecom has operations in other African countries (Recasts, adds context, analyst quotes)

By Matt Smith

DUBAI, May 5 (Reuters) - Etisalat, which is set to buy a majority stake in Maroc Telecom, has agreed to sell its West African business to the Moroccan firm for $650 million to tap its expertise in that region.

The deal will enable the United Arab Emirates telecom operator to offload assets that have added little to its bottom line to Maroc Telecom, whose operations in Gabon, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania posted a 9.5 percent increase in revenue last year.

"Maroc Telecom has done pretty well with its own operations in sub-Saharan Africa, so Etisalat's thinking seem to be that it should take advantage of Maroc Telecom's demonstrable expertise in that region," said Matthew Reed, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media in Dubai.

Etisalat on Monday said it is selling Atlantique Telecom, its wholly owned West African subsidiary that has mobile operations in Central African Republic, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Niger and Togo, plus its Benin unit and separate regional information technology.

"Etisalat took on operations in quite difficult and competitive markets where there was probably also a language gap which may also have been a problem. Maroc Telecom seems to have cracked operating in Francophone West Africa whereas Etisalat hasn't, although Etisalat's Nigeria affiliate is doing well," Reed said.

The Atlantique sale is dependent on Etisalat completing a deal to buy French conglomerate Vivendi's 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom for 4.2 billion euros.

Etisalat, which has operations in 15 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, expects that transaction to be completed by the end of May.

The UAE firm initially bought 50 percent of Atlantique Telecom for 432 million dirhams ($117.6 million) in 2005, paying 419 million dirhams for a further 20 percent stake in 2007 before taking full ownership in 2010.

Etisalat does not break out its Atlantique business in financial results. The firm's African cluster, which also includes Tanzania and Sudan, made a net loss of 62 million dirhams in the third quarter of 2013, the latest set of published figures.

Etisalat took impairments of 71.7 million dirhams from Atlantique in 2013, while the subsidiary last year had borrowings of 1.64 billion dirhams and capital expenditure of 1.19 billion dirhams, according to Reuters calculations.

Etisalat did not give a rationale for the African deal in its statement on Monday.

In a March investor presentation, Etisalat said one of the reasons for buying into Maroc Telecom was its "in-depth knowledge of the African market and...particular experience of turning around incumbents".

($1 = 3.6730 UAE Dirhams)

(Reporting by Matt Smith; Editing by Erica Billingham)