Telecom Italia Looks Vulnerable
Europe's traditional national operators will be keeping a close eye on Italy in the coming months to see if "one of their own" falls victim to a combination of modern-day market pressures and a faltering survival strategy.
The Italian incumbent is attracting interest from a number of potential buyers that sense the telco's vulnerability. According to a Bloomberg report, former Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) and Orange (NYSE: FTE) CEO Sol Trujillo is aiming to raise €7.5 billion (US$9.5 billion) in order to buy a significant minority stake in the Italian operator and install himself as CEO.
Speculation that a bid might be on its way from the colorful Trujillo -- who has called his takeover plan Project Adriano -- gave Telecom Italia (TIM) 's share price a near 10% boost late last week to almost €1.00: The operator's stock currently stands at €0.92, giving it a market capitalization of nearly €16.9 billion ($21.4 billion). (See Sol-ong, Sol, Telstra CEO: Survival of the Bravest, Orange CEO Steps Down and Trujillo Named CEO of Orange.)
But it's not only Trujillo who has his eye on the Italian operator: Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, who knows the Italian telecoms scene well from his time as the owner of competitive mobile operator Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA , has approached the national carrier about investments in the past, and, according to this Reuters report, is still interested.
Telecom Italia is vulnerable because its financials are poor -- revenues for the first half of 2014 were down by 11.3% year-on-year to €10.55 billion ($13.4 billion), while earnings before non-cash goodwill charges were down 3.9% to €2.23 billion ($2.8 billion) -- and its strategy is in disarray: The operator failed in its efforts to strengthen its existing business in Brazil when it lost out in a bidding war to buy broadband operator GVT, and the sale of its operations in Argentina, agreed a year ago, has faltered, and is now being questioned by some investors. (See Telefónica, Telecom Italia in $9B Battle to Buy Brazil's GVT, Eurobites: Telefónica Seals Brazilian Deal and Euronews: Telecom Italia Bails Out of Argentina.)
So, Telecom Italia is under pressure in its domestic market, is having issues with its international holdings, and is having to deal with disgruntled investors: Something has to change, and that change could well start at the ownership level.
Europe's other incumbents will be keeping a close eye on developments for a number of reasons: If Telecom Italia does undergo a change of ownership, they'll be interested to see if any new owners have continental ambitions that might affect their operations; and they'll be interested to see how Telecom Italia's overseas portfolio shapes up, as pretty much every major European operator has international holdings of their own these days.
Most of all, though, they'll be looking at how Telecom Italia's overall strategy develops, and whether it has a positive or negative impact on its financials, which are already under strain from a sizable debt pile of €27.4 billion ($34.8 billion). Every national operator suffers from some of the same competitive and strategic pressures as Telecom Italia, and they'll want to assess, and learn from, its experiences.
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading