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Sat 4 Jul 2015 09:36 AM

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Telco Orange says eyeing growth in Middle East markets

French telecom operator says it aims to grow revenue in region by about 5% a year through to 2018

Telco Orange says eyeing growth in Middle East markets

Telecom operator Orange aims to grow revenue from its Africa and Middle East operation by about 5 percent a year through 2018 and is looking for expansion opportunities in the region, Chief Financial Officer Ramon Fernandez said.

Speaking at a press conference, Fernandez said the goal was to improve operating profit from the region by "even more" than the sales growth.

Orange sees Africa and the Middle East as key to the French company's future, especially since it sold its mobile operations in Britain and Switzerland. Unlike its European businesses, Orange's revenues in Africa and the Middle East are growing as more people switch to smartphones.

Orange has about 100 million subscribers in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal and Mali among other countries, and they brought in nearly 10 percent of group sales last year. Revenues from the region rose by 7 percent to reach 4.29 billion euros, generating operating profit of 1.4 billion euros.

Orange recently created a separate unit for the African and Middle Eastern operations to make them more visible to investors and to run them more efficiently.

Fernandez said this structure could allow Orange to eventually float the unit or bring in financial investors or strategic partners.

"We do not prejudge what we will do with the benefits of this legal structure," he said.

"So what are we doing is creating conditions for taking opportunities when they arise."

Asked whether Orange would consider acquisitions in the Middle East and Africa, Fernandez said it would consider "adding on a very selective basis some assets if we can find them at the right price."

Trade publication TMT Finance reported on Thursday that Orange was in talks with Indian operator Bharti Airtel over potentially buying some of its activities in Africa. Bharti entered the region about five years ago and is said to be weighing a sale because of unsatisfying results.

Fernandez declined to comment on whether talks were underway with Bharti Airtel.

Orange shares closed up 0.6 percent to 14.16 euros on Thursday, compared with a 1 percent drop for France's blue chip CAC 40 index.

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