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Thu 27 Nov 2014 06:41 PM

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Bahrain's Batelco said to hire Citigroup to sell Jordan unit

Sources say telco is looking to sell Umniah which is Jordan's No 3 mobile operator

Bahrain's Batelco said to hire Citigroup to sell Jordan unit
(Photo for illustrative purpose only)

Bahrain's Batelco has mandated Citigroup to sell its Jordanian mobile operator Umniah, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Umniah, Jordan's No.3 mobile operator by subscribers, competes with Zain Jordan, a unit of Kuwait's Zain, andFrance's Orange in the country of 7.9 million people bordering war-torn Iraq and Syria.

The Bahraini former monopoly paid 156.9 million dinars ($416.2 million) for a 96 percent stake in 2006, but offloading the business could prove tough due to market dynamics.

"It's early stages but I would be surprised if it gets huge interest," said a senior Gulf-based banker. "It's a difficult asset in a difficult market, and most of the regional telcos who would be the natural buyers won't be interested."

The banker and another source familiar with the matter said Citigroup had been mandated for the potential sale.

"Batelco's board of directors continues to explore opportunities in the sector as well as monitoring the performance of the investment portfolio," the company said in a bourse filing in response to media reports of a potential sale.

"Currently, no decision has been taken by the board to sell any investment."

Citi declined to comment.

Batelco, which has a market capitalisation of $1.5 billion according to Reuters data, made a profit of 46.87 million dinars in the nine months to Sept. 30. Of this, Jordan accounted for 4.67 million dinars, or 10 percent.

The Jordanian unit's nine-month profit fell 25 percent from a year earlier, despite its mobile subscribers increasing by 8 percent to 2.9 million over the same period.

Zain is Jordan's market leader with a 39 percent share of subscribers, according to its third-quarter earnings, followed by Orange with 31 percent and Umniah on 30 percent.

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