February 27, 2015 / 7:36 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 2-Belgacom shares plunge after profit falls below expectations

* Belgacom Q4 EBITDA 380 mln euros vs 390 mln expected

* Shares fall as much as 9.4 percent (Adds share reaction, analyst comment, court case)

By Robert-Jan Bartunek

BRUSSELS, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Belgacom’s shares lost almost a tenth of their value on Friday after quarterly profit fell below market expectations and analysts said its sales and earnings forecasts for 2015 were disappointing.

The forecast for this year - of underlying revenue and core profit remaining stable or growing slightly - was the Belgian telecoms group’s first positive outlook on either of those metrics since 2010.

But some analysts were unimpressed. “The guidance is a bit conservative and I had hoped for a stronger increase,” said Ruben Devos of KBC.

It came after Belgium’s largest telecoms operator posted a 4.7 percent drop in fourth-quarter underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), to 380 million euros ($426 million).

That was below the 390 million euros average forecast in a Reuters poll of nine analysts. The miss was largely due to a provision for a tax on mobile phone masts in the south of the country.

Meanwhile, a court on Thursday appointed new experts to rule whether Belgacom abused its dominant position between 1999 and 2004 as alleged by its Belgian competitors Mobistar and Base , in a case which started in 2003. The experts will announce their findings in 2016.

“We believe damage can be significant and in the hundreds of millions,” an analyst at ABN Amro wrote in a note to clients.

Belgacom has so far not taken any provision.


Shares in the company dropped as much as 9.4 percent on Friday, making them the worst performer on the FTSEurofirst300 Index of leading European shares. They were down 8 percent at 1322 GMT.

“The court case also may be another reason for the share drop today,” a Brussels-based trader said.

After years of decline, sparked by European price caps on using mobile phones abroad and routing competitors’ calls, Belgium’s telecoms market was shaken up by a new law in 2012 that hit operators’ revenue.

This law limited contract durations and caused a strong increase in the number of customers switching operators, and it is only recently the market appears to have stabilised.

Belgacom’s shares had risen by around 20 percent this year, before Friday’s drop, on expectations that the market had left the worst of the price declines, caused by the telecoms law and regulatory caps, behind it.

The group, which offers telecoms services under the Proximus brand in Belgium, repeated that it would pay a dividend of 1.50 euros per share for the results of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

It said revenue rose by 0.5 percent in its consumer business unit in 2014, boosted by strong uptake of broadband internet and digital TV and growth of mobile customers with a contract.

$1 = 0.8920 euros Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Pravin Char

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