May 18, 2018 / 8:21 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-True Corp skips $3.5 bln Thai spectrum auction, boosts rival DTAC's chances

* True attributes move to auction price, terms not being beneficial

* Shares of True and rival DTAC jump over 5 pct

* Regulator: will proceed with auction even if 1 bidder (Adds analyst’s comments, auction context)

By Chayut Setboonsarng

BANGKOK, May 18 (Reuters) - Thai mobile operator True Corp announced it won’t bid for new spectrum being offered by the Southeast nation in an auction worth up to $3.5 billion, assuaging investor concerns over its potential spending and sparking a surge in its shares.

The move by True, Thailand’s second largest mobile operator, could make it easier for smaller rival Total Access Communications (DTAC) to win much needed spectrum, some analysts said, causing its shares to jump.

True, part of CP Group, which is owned by Thai billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont, said on Friday it will pass up on bidding for 1800-megahertz (MHz) spectrum in the auction scheduled for August, calling the terms onerous.

“From examining the details and terms in the auction documents, the price and regulations do not significantly benefit the auction winner,” True said in a statement, adding it has sufficient frequencies in its portfolio to support its growth plans.

Thailand, in its first spectrum auction since 2015, is putting up three 15-MHz licences under the 1800 Mhz spectrum, with a reserve price of 37.5 billion baht ($1.17 billion) each. The licences have a 15-year lifetime.

True Corp shares rose as much as 8.1 percent on Friday after its announcement, before ending the day 5.9 percent higher.

“Investors have positive sentiment for True not making an expensive investment,” said Pisut Ngamvijitvong, an analyst at Kasikorn Securities.

Shares of Thailand’s third-ranked mobile operator DTAC, which is 43 percent owned by Norway’s Telenor Group, surged as much as 7.3 percent.

Just a day earlier, DTAC had said it was considering bidding in the auction. It had earlier criticised the terms of the auction, calling them “out of step” with industry needs, but some analysts said it needed the spectrum as its current spectrum licence is set to expire in September.

Ratings agency Fitch has said securing the 1800-Mhz spectrum was “crucial” for DTAC because the company had lost market share due to spectrum inferiority.

With True vacating the field, DTAC’s chances of winning spectrum have improved, boosting its shares, said some analysts.

“DTAC could be the sole bidder in August,” said Pisut of Kasikorn Securities.

Thailand’s largest mobile operator Advanced Info Service Pcl has not yet said whether it will bid or not. Its shares climbed as much as 2.2 percent on Friday.

Some analysts said Friday’s gains in shares of the three mobile operators were also partly fuelled by hopes that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), which set the auction terms, will ease them after True’s exit to facilitate a competitive process.

“We will proceed with the auction even if there is one bidder,” NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tantasith said in statement, responding to True’s announcement. ($1 = 32.1200 baht) (Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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