ECONOMY

TIM Hellas up for sale; talks at advanced stage

Negotiations for the sale of mobile telecommunications company TIM Hellas to an international fund management company are at an advanced stage and, barring surprises, should be concluded by the end of March, sources told Kathimerini. TIM Hellas (formerly known as Stet Hellas), a 100 percent-owned subsidiary of Telecom Italia Mobile, had long been an acquisition target. Its suitors included several Greek and Cypriot businessmen who, however, lacked the financial clout to undertake such a big investment and rumors that periodically surfaced about those suitors did not interest TIM, whose asking price is said to be slightly lower than $2 billion. This is the price that several international funds are willing to pay. These funds almost certainly have the backing of a wealthy individual or a telecommunications company. Reliable sources have said that TIM chief Marco de Benedetti is holding out for as high a price as possible and is a hard bargainer who wants to maximize the premium he will get from the sale. It is nonetheless estimated that, barring a major upset, the sale will be finalized by the end of March. TIM is willing to sell, anyway, and restructure its investment portfolio. It has already put its subsidiaries in Peru and Chile up for sale and is said to be planning to focus on Brazil and Turkey. If the deal finally goes through, it will be one of the largest in the European mobile telecommunications sector in recent years. The sector has gone through a bad patch, owing to the fact that mobile telephony spread very quickly in European markets as well as customers’ slow response for third-generation mobile telecoms products. Several mobile telecoms providers have also been reeling from the heavy debts they acquired when they paid outrageously high sums for third-generation licenses. If TIM Hellas changes hands, attention will focus on the buyer’s strategy, domestically and in the Balkans. TIM Hellas, one of the two original mobile telecoms services providers in Greece, has 2.5 million subscribers. Its 2004 turnover was 850 million euros.