October 19, 2010 / 1:01 PM / 8 years ago

Saudi's Mobily may expand abroad

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi telecoms firm Mobily 7020.SE still sees promising potential in the world’s top oil exporter but might also look abroad for acquisitions at some point, a senior executive said on Tuesday.

Hisham Zaki El-Jamal, Mobily's director of strategic finance planning and investment, speaks at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Riyadh October 19, 2010. REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

“There is still a huge upside in the Saudi market ... The market is big and is growing,” Hisham Zaki El-Jamal, Director strategic finance planning and investment, said at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Riyadh.

“If there is an opportunity that maximizes value for our shareholders we will consider it,” El-Jamal said when asked if Mobily would consider foreign expansion, but did not elaborate further.

A foreign acquisition would mark a significant development for Mobily which has up to now focused on growth in its home market, leaving foreign expansion ambitions to its main shareholder Emirates Telecommunications ETEL.AD.

Analysts say presence in the Saudi market offers telecoms companies a chance to develop a brand equity thanks to the presence of 8 million expatriates and the annual pilgrimages that attract 2 million to 3 million people from dozens of nations and who use local networks.

Mobily started up as the kingdom’s second mobile phone operator five years ago and now competes with state-controlled Saudi Telecom 7010.SE and Zain Saudi Arabia 7030.SE.

Its third-quarter net profit rose 41 percent to a record 1.14 billion riyals ($303.5 million), although its revenues for the period posted their lowest-ever quarter-to-quarter rise amid tough competition and a 178 percent penetration of voice services.

El-Jamal attributed this weak rise in third-quarter revenues mainly to the fact “that we didn’t make major promotions during Q3 ... We try to make timely promotions that will give the best of returns.”

Some analysts were alarmed by the slow increase and were left to think that it may be due to competition mainly from Zain Saudi Arabia which raised its third-quarter revenues by about 15 percent from the previous period on wider customer base.

To maintain healthy profit growths that has made it analysts’ favorite telecom pick in the Atab world’s biggest economy, Mobily will focus on boosting revenues from data, including broadband clients, and from corporate and wholesale clients, and on cost efficiency, El-Jamal said.

“We see capex is stable for the moment ... Broadband is still lowly-penetrated. It’s a higher-margin business than the voice,” El-Jamal said.

Data revenues — which include broadband and SMS — are expected to account for 20 percent of Mobily’s overall revenues in 2011, up from 18 percent in the third quarter.

Mobily aims to raise the number of its broadband clients to 7 million by 2015 from 1.5 million clients in May 2010. The fact that Saudi Arabia applies a strict form of Islam that bans cinemas and the consumption of alcohol is a boon for telecom operators especially in the internet business.

The firm also wants to win more contracts from government departments and private firms to raise the share of corporate clients’ revenues to up to 19 percent of total revenues by 2015, from 5 percent by the end of September.

“Our projections estimate corporate revenues for all telecom firms to reach between 28 and 30 billion riyals by 2015,” El-Jamal said.

The firm also wants to further boost revenues from wholesale clients, the telecom service providers who pay a fee to use Mobily’s network infrastructure.

Reporting by Riyadh newsroom; Editing by Hans Peters

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