Eurobites: It's a Numbers Game
Cheerio, dearest readers! How the devil are you?
As you might have guessed from that rather plummy salutation, this edition of the Eurobites newsfest comes to you from the heart of Dear Old England, which is currently in a high state of excitement.
Why? Has England finally found a world-class tennis player who could possibly win the Wimbledon Men's title on home turf? Or has the Queen announced another Royal wedding perhaps?
Good gracious, no. Don't be so ridiculous! The frenzy of excitement is being generated by the equipment vendors currently holed up in a London hotel for the 21st Century Communications World Forum event, seeking to impress BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) as the British carrier prepares to announce its next-generation network contract awards (see BT Sinks Its Teeth Into IP, BT Has 21CN Shortlists, and BT Moves Ahead With Mega Project.
The vendors are sweating: BT has said it will announce its lead contractors before the end of its financial year, a deadline that's now just 37 days away.
But that's not all the BT board has been dealing with lately...
Right Riveting Revenues
Yes, we're right in the thick of financial results season here in Europe, with BT and France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE) among the continent's major operators to have stumped up their numbers recently (see BT Reports Q3 Results and France Telecom Reports 2004 Results).
Eurobites went to BT's HQ to hear the results, which were -- with revenues and profits heading in the right direction (that's up, for those who may have forgotten), and net debt slimming down -- fairly decent, all things considered. BT's CEO Ben Verwaayen noted that this makes four quarters of sequential growth in revenues, which all sounds "top hole," as we Limeys say.
But there's always a sting in the tail, isn't there. Such fantastic numbers have given the union representing a significant portion of BT's workforce the confidence to ask for a whopping great pay rise -- an inflation-busting 8 percent, no less (see Union Demands Pay Hike From BT).
The highlight of the BT visit, though, was meeting BT's new CFO, Hanif Lalani. This was his first results presentation in front of the usual baying pack of financial hounds, and after an hour or so of questions about his "financial tools" and whether he was going to restructure BT's debt (he says he's just looking into it), he was Cream Crackered ("knackered") and Tom Dick ("sick") of financials.
So we talked about sports and his love for English football (soccer) team Leeds United. Now there's a judgment call that should set alarm bells ringing with Lalani's fellow board members. But then, Verwaayen supports London team Arsenal, so there's clearly a lack of rational judgment at BT's top table.
But enough sporting banter. What of our French friends? Well, the numbers left some analysts rather disappointed, with 2004 net income coming in at €2.8 billion (US$3.66 billion), somewhat short of analysts' expectations of €3.15 billion ($4.12 billion).
However, Standard & Poor’s leapt to FT's defense (see S&P Raises France Telecom Rating). The ratings agency noted the carrier's "strong operating performance and conservative financial policy."
Plus, it does a cracking coq au vin.
In other news, international service provider Equant (NYSE: ENT; Paris: EQU), already majority owned by France Telecom, agreed to be fully acquired by the national French operator (see Equant Agrees to France Telecom Buyout). Once that deal is complete, FT will have bought back total ownership of its international, Internet access (Wanadoo) and mobile (Orange) operations in the past few years.
Green Light For FastWeb Expansion
An emergency general meeting of FastWeb SpA shareholders last Friday approved a share capital increase to help fund the Italian carrier's network expansion plans (see FastWeb Unveils Expansion Plan).
FastWeb, which recently posted healthy financials for 2004, is to issue new shares at a price between €33 and €37 to raise €800 million ($1.06 billion) towards the €2.8 billion ($3.7 billion) or so of capex it plans to invest between now and 2010 (see FastWeb Announces Q4, 04).
How many more lame gags can we squeeze from the word Czech? Lots more, believe me.
Another carrier with a recent fistful of financial numbers was the Czech Republic's national operator Cheeky Chesky Chelecom a.s.
OK, Cesky Telecom. It did really rather well, financially speaking, posting a net profit of 5.67 billion Koruny ($248 million) from annual revenues of CZK62.1 billion ($2.7 billion), thus making it an even more attractive target for the companies bidding to buy a majority stake in Cesky from the Czech government (see Cesky Reports $244M Profit for 2004).
And after months of posturing, the Czech government has a shortlist of potential buyers, who are expected to need at least €2 billion ($2.6 billion) to land the 51 percent stake.
That shortlist includes Belgacom (Euronext: BELG), Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM), Telefònica SA, and two financial consortia. Bids from those interested parties are due in by March 29. We'll czech back.
A Storm in Euro Ports
Numbers of a different kind now. According to Dell'Oro Group, DSL access concentrator port shipments (DSLAMs and DLCs) increased by 38 percent in the fourth quarter of 2004 compared with the previous three months.
The analyst group says all the major DSL vendors experienced double-digit sequential increases in ports shipped as incumbent carriers such as BT, France Telecom, and Telecom Italia SpA (NYSE: TI) continued with their frenetic broadband rollouts.
Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), ECI Telecom Ltd. (Nasdaq/NM: ECIL), and Marconi Corp. plc (Nasdaq: MRCIY; London: MONI) were among the vendors that increased their market share in the fourth quarter, according to Dell'Oro's report.
There are no signs that broadband growth is abating in Europe just yet, and BT's Verwaayen boasts that his DSL activation team is turning on a broadband line every 10 seconds at the moment (see DSL Users Top 85M). Those poor guys must be pretty tired by now, surely.
Other recent European news of interest includes:
- ADVA Forecasts 2005 Growth
- Telenor Reports Q4 Loss
- ADC Krone Wins DSL Contract
- Test Firms Plan Merger
- ECI Lands Finnish Optical Deal
- Italians Bring Moonv6 to Europe
- IMS Tops 3GSM Agenda
- Sentito Signs Russian Reseller
- Ericsson Reports Q4 Profit
- Cogent Extends London Connectivity
- Laurel Looks to Europe
- Sofinnova Grabs €385M
- Hungarians Close to Merger
- Tele2 Reports 2004 Results
- Eircom Reports Q3
- MCI Pushes Private Line in Europe