* Auction draws $2.26 bln in bids after 33-hour contest
* AIS shares at 14-month low, True at 2-1/2 month low
* Expensive licences could lead to EPS downgrade - analysts (Recasts with winners, prices)
By Khettiya Jittapong and Manunphattr Dhanananphorn
BANGKOK, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Thailand’s leading mobile operators Advanced Info Service Pcl and True Corp won an auction for fourth generation mobile frequency licences valued at $2.26 billion, Thailand’s telecoms regulator said on Thursday.
AIS, 23 percent owned by Singapore Telecommunications Ltd , offered prices at 40.99 billion baht ($1.14 billion), the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) said.
AIS is the only major Thai operator that did not have 4G service.
True Corp, 18 percent owned by China Mobile and controlled by billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont’s Charoen Pokphand Group, offered prices at 39.79 billion baht.
After an auction lasting 33 hours, the winning bidding prices were more than double a base price of 15.91 billion baht. This compared with analyst estimates of 22 billion baht.
Other bidders included Thailand’s second-largest mobile operator Total Access Communication and broadband operator Jasmine International.
The auction attracted more bidders and higher bids than the previous contest, the telecoms regulator said. The 2012 auction took six hours and the government raised $1.36 billion.
The regulator resumed the auction at 1130 GMT after breaking for an hour’s rest at the bidders’ request, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) vice chairman Settapong Malisuwan told a news conference.
Shares in Thailand’s leading telecoms operators slumped on Thursday on concerns they may end up paying too much for 4G mobile licences at a hotly contested auction.
Analysts said the cost of the licences could lead to a possible earnings downgrade of operators as companies will shoulder higher financial expenses and amortisation costs that will drag on their profitability.
Thailand’s tech bellwether ICT index slid 5.8 percent to the lowest since January 2014, led by sharp declines in AIS and True.
Market leader AIS slipped 6.6 percent to close near a 14-month low of 210 baht, while third-ranked True lost 8 percent to two-and-a-half-month low.
Shares in second-ranked TAC, controlled by Norway’s Telenor , fell 8.2 percent to a five-week low, while Jasmine recouped earlier loss and closed unchanged.
The new 4G spectrum will enable companies to expand network capacity and tap robust demand for mobile data in a saturated market, where mobile phone penetration is more than 140 percent.
AIS, which has the largest subscriber base but limited bandwidth capacity, is badly in need of new spectrum to roll out 4G services and to compete with smaller rivals TAC and True.
True Corp needed a licence to maintain its leading position in 4G services, analysts said. ($1 = 35.8800 baht) (Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Amy Sawitta Lefevre, editing by David Evans)