* Not seeking any big acquisitions
* Wants very, very robust balance sheet (Adds quotes, detail)
By Joachim Dagenborg and Terje Solsvik
OSLO, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Norway’s Telenor is not attempting to attract any more interest for its mobile phone companies in central and eastern Europe, its chief executive told Reuters on Thursday, following last week’s announcement of an unsolicited offer.
The units in Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro make up one of three geographic clusters in Telenor’s portfolio, with the two others based in the Nordic region and Asia.
“It was an inbound interest and not something we initiated. Right now we are only assessing that inbound interest,” Sigve Brekke said in an interview, declining to identify the potential bidder.
“We’re not trying to go out and create a competition and we have not gotten any more offers either. So we’re only assessing that inbound offer ... It is interesting enough for us to spend a little bit time to assess,” he added.
With its 178 million subscribers in 12 countries, Telenor is Norway’s second-most valuable company after Statoil and its shares have risen 36 percent in the last 12 months after boosting profit, raising the dividend and buying back shares.
The company still generates significantly more cash than it pays out however, leading some analysts and investors to call for larger dividends.
“We want to have a very, very robust balance sheet,” Brekke said, while reiterating an earlier commitment to continue buying back shares and raising the dividend year by year.
On Wednesday the company reported fourth-quarter core earnings in line with forecasts and announced plans to lay off some 6,000 people, or 20 percent of staff, over the next three years as services are automated and duplication removed.
Telenor cut costs by 1.6 billion Norwegian crowns ($209 million) last year and hopes for cuts of up to four billion crowns more by 2020 as investments in digital platforms and cloud-based services pay off.
“The uncertainties concern how quickly you can take out efficiencies,” Brekke added.
While most of Telenor’s markets are considered mature, its units in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar collectively won eight million new customers last year and still have considerable potential for growth.
“Right now the focus is not to go into new markets,” Brekke said. “We’re not preparing the balance sheet for any big acquisitions.”
$1 = 7.6729 Norwegian crowns Additional reporting by Ole Petter Skonnord and Nerijus Adomaitis, editing by Alister Doyle and David Evans