Saudi Telecom Co (STC) plans major acquisitions in the Middle East next year to take advantage of a buyer's market to expand its regional presence, the chief executive of its international operations said on Sunday.
"I see 2012 as a year of potential acquisitions. We are now in more acquisitions mode than before," said Ghassan Hasbani, chief executive of STC's international division, on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum conference.
STC was late to expand abroad compared with regional rivals such as the UAE's Etisalat and Qatar Telecom, but now owns 80 percent of Indonesia's Axis, 35 percent of Turkey's Oger Telecom and a one-quarter stake in Malaysia's Maxis Bhd .
"The market value of those assets is remarkably higher than the value that was paid for it three and a-half years ago. We have created a lot of value in the operations and assets through synergies," Hasbani said.
STC also has mobile licenses in Kuwait and Bahrain.
The foreign push comes amid stiffening competition at home from rivals Mobily and Zain Saudi. STC said on Wednesday that third-quarter net profit more than halved, falling well short of forecasts as it made unexpected foreign exchange losses and took provisions following an adverse government ruling.
"We are not doing due diligence but we are analysing potential opportunities. Given market conditions and the global economic situation, it is a buyer's market, no doubt," he said.
"We are looking at opportunities that complement our current footprint and strengthens our investment portfolio and we are looking to focus on the Middle East region in markets where there is a good opportunity and a reasonable outlook on stability," he said.
Financing would not pose a problem for the group.
"We have a lot of access to cheap funding and capital that would not be an impediment as long as we maintain a good level of rating and we maintain a good level of dividend payout," Hasbani said. "We look at debt financing usually and that is available for a company like us at good rates."