* Says stable dividend likely
* Would sell Sparkle at right price
* Improved but not best environment for asset sales
By Nicola Leske
BARCELONA, NOV 18 (Reuters) - Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI) said last year’s dividend could be sustained and that it was still seeking a buyer for its telecommunications service provider Sparkle despite a difficult market environment.
“The dividend will be decided by the board and that has not been done yet but the dividend paid last year can be sustained,” Chief Executive Franco Bernabe said on Wednesday at the Morgan Stanley TMT conference in Barcelona.
On 2008 results, Italy’s biggest telecommunications company, paid out 5 euro cents per ordinary share and 6.1 euro cents savings shares, down from 2007 payouts.
Bernabe, who has championed a belt-tightening strategy since taking the reins in 2007, denied talk that the company had postponed the sale of a 49-percent stake in its Sparkle unit, which it put on the block in May.
“If we get a good price we will sell,” Bernabe said.
Telecom Italia in the past has said Sparkle could be sold as part of the company’s plans to cut debt through asset sales, which could raise as much as 3 billion euros.
The company has said it could sell Sparkle’s Lan Nautilus Latin American and other minor assets should the opportunity arise.
But Bernabe cautioned it was not the optimal climate for disposals even if the environment had improved compared with six months ago.
“Prices have been better than in the first half of the year but it’s not the best time to sell assets,” Bernabe said.
Telecom Italia this month did manage to sell its German DSL unit Hansenet to Spanish telecoms group Telefonica (TEF.MC) for 900 million euros.
“We have disposed of Hansenet despite it being a very difficult environment,” Bernabe said.
Reporting by Nicola Leske; editing by Elaine Hardcastle