ECONOMY

Austria telecom into OTE stake?

VIENNA (Reuters) – Telekom Austria is eyeing a stake in Greek phone carrier OTE that is due to be sold by the Greek government early next year, bankers familiar with the situation told Reuters yesterday. Greece still has to pass a law and hire advisers for the auction and any decision by Telekom Austria to participate is still months away. But Chief Executive Boris Nemsic seems unlikely to be resigned to the fate many analysts see for him: of being prey, not predator. «Nemsic is a bit of a deal junkie,» said one of the many investment bankers trying to get a part of the OTE deal, which is expected to attract bigger phone companies such as Deutsche Telekom or Spain’s Telefonica as well. Partly state-owned Telekom Austria is in the race for Bosnia’s Telekom Srpske and is also sole bidder for a mobile phone permit in Serbia, another banker familiar with the matter said. Telekom Austria declined to comment. Nemsic, the first banker said, is thinking about how he can put Telekom Austria’s huge cash reserves to work through a much bigger deal. OTE would not be the only option. Other deals of a size Telekom Austria – which has a market capitalization of 9.6 billion euros – could digest are with Telenor, TeliaSonera or Russia’s Altimo, the banker said. But OTE’s first advantage is that a stake is for sale. Greece’s conservative government has said it will sell part of its 38.6 percent stake in OTE next year, preferably to a major European peer who will also participate in management, as part of its efforts to boost competition in the Greek economy. It has not said how much of its stake would be sold. The first banker said he expected around 20 to 25 percent of OTE to be sold – which would be worth 1.9 billion to 2.4 billion euros. «That’s something (Telekom Austria) could easily finance without having to raise equity,» the banker said. The other appealing fact about OTE is that it is focused on the Balkans, just like Telekom Austria, and that their assets would fit together nicely apart from a few overlaps.