By Ehab Farouk and Maria Kiselyova
CAIRO/MOSCOW, May 27 (Reuters) - Russia’s Altimo failed to secure a majority stake in Egypt-based Orascom Telecom by a Monday deadline and said it was ready to take a smaller interest in the company if Egypt’s financial market regulator allows.
Shareholders holding 15.9 percent of Orascom Telecom (OTH) stock listed on the Egyptian Stock Exchange offered to sell, below the minimum 26.6 percent required for the buyout.
Altimo, the telecoms arm of Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group, already has an indirect interest in OTH through telecoms group Vimpelcom, in which it is the biggest shareholder. Vimpelcom owns 51.9 percent of OTH.
Altimo launched an offer in April to buy out minority shareholders of the Egypt-based company, which has mobile businesses in Canada, Algeria, Pakistan and other emerging markets such as Bangladesh, in a deal worth an estimated $1.8 billion.
OTH management this month advised shareholders to reject the offer, saying the price of $0.70 per share was too low.
Altimo said on Monday it had asked the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA) to waive the minimum take-up requirement for minority shareholders tendering their stock.
“Even though this number falls below the 26 percent minimum threshold, this is still a significant percentage representing one third of the freefloat of OTH,” Altimo said in emailed comments.
“Therefore Altimo would like to honour its commitment of buying the shares at 70 cents from all shareholders that tendered and hence has applied to EFSA to waive this minimum requirement.”
Sources familiar with the matter had said Vimpelcom planned to delist OTH from both the Cairo and London stock exchanges if Altimo’s offer succeeded.
That would allow Vimpelcom to lower costs by closing down the Egyptian office, avoid exposure to Egyptian regulatory risks and political instability and improve efficiency by placing OTH assets under Vimpelcom’s direct management.
The prospect of an imminent delisting appears less likely now that Altimo has failed to secure a majority stake.
Analysts at Egyptian brokerage Naeem said the outcome of the Altimo bid was positive for remaining OTH shareholders.
They said the price offered was too low and the Egyptian company may be closer to resolving a long-running dispute with Algeria’s government over its Djezzy mobile phone subsidiary. The dispute has weighed on OTH’s share price for years.
“Failure of the offer, in our opinion, was mainly on account of the offer price being low and amidst expectations of a positive outcome in Algeria,” the analysts said in a note.
An OTH spokesman in Cairo told Reuters the bid was “purely a shareholder issue” and declined to comment further.