Telenor's fourth-quarter earnings, full-year dividend lag expectations

FILE PHOTO: Telenor's logo is seen in central Belgrade, Serbia, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

OSLO (Reuters) - Norwegian telecom firm Telenor posted lower-than-expected fourth-quarter results on Wednesday and said earnings would grow more slowly in 2019 than last year.

Telenor, Norway’s second-largest company, with 173 million customers in eight countries across Europe and Asia, raised its full-year dividend by about 4 percent, lagging analysts’ forecasts for a 36 percent increase.

Telenor plans to buy back up to 3 percent of its shares however, helped by the introduction of a new goal to increase its debt from current levels, the company said.

Activist investor Constructive Capital recently asked Telenor to trim its balance sheet and pay higher dividends to owners, and analysts have also called for increased payouts.

The company will pay 8.40 Norwegian crowns ($0.9903) per share for 2018, up from 8.10 crowns in 2017 but lagging the average 11.0 crowns payment predicted in a Reuters poll of analysts.

“Telenor believes the new targeted capital structure will provide a good balance between shareholder return and stable access to capital markets, and support Telenor’s strategic priorities,” the company said.

Quarterly profit before interest, tax, depreciation, amortization and other items (adjusted EBITDA) fell 4.3 percent year-on-year to 10.3 billion Norwegian crowns, while analysts in the poll had expected a profit of 10.85 billion crowns.

Reporting by Ole Petter Skonnord, editing by Terje Solsvik and Subhranshu Sahu