C&W looks abroad for fresh assets

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Cable and Wireless is considering a series of acquisitions abroad as the UK telecoms group seeks to convince investors that it is on a path to long-term revival.

Harris Jones, chief executive of C&W’s international businesses, said he was confident he could increase revenue through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions after ending several years of falling sales.

In an interview with the Financial Times, he also signalled that efforts to improve C&W’s troubled UK operations would have no impact on his strategy.

C&W has international operations in 33 countries, many of which are offshore tax havens. Mr Jones expressed an interest in buying Jersey’s state-owned telecoms company after the treasury minister of the UK crown dependency last month said that it should be sold.

C&W is also expected to make a revised offer for KeyTech, Bermuda’s main telecoms company, after a proposal to purchase it for £113m (€167.88m) was rejected last month.

Mr Jones also said he was eyeing other deals. “We believe there are plenty of opportunities for us to grow inorganically,” he said. “We intend to be robust in looking at more acquisitions.”

C&W’s group balance sheet recorded net cash of £343m at March 31 2006. C&W’s international businesses had a net cash inflow of £363m before financing activities in 2005-06. C&W’s UK operations, which are in the middle of a severe restructuring, had a net cash outflow before financing activities of £889m.

Mr Jones said there were no constraints on his use of cash generated by C&W’s international businesses following the group’s reorganisation in January.

He added any acquisitions could be financed by cash and increased borrowing. “If you look at the size of the transactions we are targeting, in the range of a couple of hundred million pounds, and the use of leverage, we have got absolutely no financial constraints on our ability to grow this business,” he said.

Meanwhile, C&W is looking for buyers for its 20 per cent stake in Batelco, Bahrain’s main telecoms company.

C&W’s international businesses generated 38 per cent of the group’s turnover in 2005-06.

The international businesses reported revenue of £1.2bn for 2005-06, up 8 per cent. Earnings before interest, tax, amortisation and depreciation were £417m, also up 8 per cent.

Revenue and earnings began falling at the beginning of the decade because of the advent of competition in most of C&W’s markets.

Previously, C&W’s international businesses had often enjoyed monopoly status.

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