* Hutchison MD lobbies Austrian watchdog for Orange takeover
* Telecoms regulator confirms deal could fall through
* Telekom Austria shares rise 2.8 percent
(Adds Hutchison MD comment, background, updates shares)
By Georgina Prodhan and Angelika Gruber
VIENNA, Dec 14 Hutchison Whampoa's
managing director flew into Vienna on Friday to fight for his
company's 1.3 billion euro ($1.7 billion) takeover of Orange
Austria held up for almost a year by regulatory
Hutchison's Canning Fok, who is based in Hong Kong, said he
had had constructive talks with the BWB, the Austrian
competition authority, the regulator that could still block the
The Asian company wants Orange Austria to gain critical mass
in the country, where it is the smallest mobile operator.
The outcome of the deal is being closely watched in other
European countries where hard-pressed telecoms companies are
also hoping to be allowed to consolidate.
The takeover is conditional on Telekom Austria
buying Yesss, Orange's budget brand in Austria, a deal approved
by Austria's cartel court.
But the BWB has said it might appeal this decision because
it is concerned the Yesss acquisition could hurt consumers.
"I've just come from the competition authority's office. We
spent over an hour talking," Fok told reporters in Vienna.
"Nothing is decided. However, the meeting was very constructive.
I feel very positive about it," he said.
A BWB appeal would delay regulatory approval beyond the end
of January, a deadline after which Telekom Austria could walk
away from the 390 million euro Yesss deal.
"If there is no decision by then, Telekom Austria could get
out of the deal," Georg Serentschy, in charge of
telecommunications at Austria's t e lecoms regulator RTR, said at
a news conference on Friday.
Telekom Austria agreed almost a year ago to buy Yesss, which
would raise its market share in Austria by about 2 percentage
points to 47 percent.
But since then, the company has warned on profits and
slashed its dividend to conserve cash. And Hutchison has
promised to help open up the market to new entrants to gain
approval for the merger, which would limit benefits from
Investors are not keen on Telekom Austria's purchase of
Yesss partly because the company, like other European telecoms
groups, is cutting its dividend.
Shares in Telekom Austria have risen since the BWB hinted it
might intervene to delay the Yesss deal. They closed 2.8 percent
higher at 5.45 euros on Friday, topping the gainers in a
European telecoms index that closed 0.6 percent lower.
The European Union approved the Hutchison-Orange takeover on
Wednesday, on condition Hutchison offer wholesale access to its
network to new entrants and give up frequencies to any potential
new network operator.
The BWB will issue its formal decision next week.
($1 = 0.7641 euros)
(Editing by Mark Potter and Jane Merriman)