Etisalat eyes acquisitions

Etisalat is in an upbeat mood and is scouting for a number of deals in the region, Emirates Business has learnt. Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar, Chief Operating Officer, said the company is set to take advantage of the global financial crisis and is eyeing regional acquisitions. « This financial crisis creates a good environment for opportunities so we will be looking at acquisitions in India, Middle East and North Africa, » he said on the sidelines of the Leaders in Dubai Forum yesterday. « We have invested in 16 countries with $11 billion (Dh40.3bn) investments in these countries. All these countries – including Egypt, Saudi, the UAE and India – have high potential growth. And we will continue to focus on these countries. » Asked if this would happen in the next 12 months, Julfar said: « If the opportunity exists, why not? » He did not single out a country and declined to say how much they would be earmarking for the acquisitions, but he said the firm is « cash-rich », and has about over $3bn cash position making financing not an issue. He added that etisalat can also have access to cashflows from other sources thanks to its « excellent cash position » and « excellent ratings ». « The telecom sector – a very-cash intensive sector – is always the last and least impacted during crisis because it is a very innovative and creative sector, » he said. « During these challenging times, we will see more innovation and productivity because of the pressure. Julfar said they expect the company’s revenue to continue to grow as more and more windows of opportunities open up. « There will be more opportunities coming up and we will be watching these opportunities. Once something comes up we will not hesitate and jump in and take advantage of the situation, » he added. Etisalat, which had 7.05 million mobile phone subscribers at the end of the third quarter this year, claims that its internet and broadband penetration in the country exceeds 60 per cent. It also has roaming agreements with more than 400 operators and has investments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Pakistan and 10 African markets, including Nigeria, Sudan and West Africa. It posted a 19 per cent rise in third-quarter profit, meeting forecasts, as it added more users in home market and expanded abroad. Karen Remo-Listana