Orange CFO forecasts 'inevitable' merger within French telecoms

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PARIS, Nov 17 (Reuters) - France will "inevitably" see the number of telecom operators fall from four to three, Orange's CFO said on Wednesday, adding that recent take-private deals by two of them, Iliad and Altice, could improve conditions for a merger.

The French telecoms market has not yet fully recovered from a protracted price war started by Iliad's Free Mobile services in 2012, with cut-throat offers successively hitting the performance of all four operators, including Bouygues Telecom (BOUY.PA).

This has prompted industry leaders to pursue consolidation, but all attempts have so far failed.

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The exit of Iliad and Altice Europe from the stock market may facilitate deals, Orange finance chief Ramon Fernandez told the Morgan Stanley TMT conference. read more

"For companies which are private now, it's probably easier to consider... strategic options, maybe consolidation in the French market," Fernandez said.

"I'm not saying that we are now on the verge of seeing something happening in France. But when the time will come, and inevitably it will come, it will be easier for these players to engage into discussions," he added.

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Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Alexander Smith

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