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Millicom International Cellular, a Nasdaq-listed mobile phone operator focused on emerging markets, put itself up for sale on Thursday after receiving approaches from several of its peers.

The company’s shares jumped more than 32 per cent in New York to $37.07, valuing it at more than $3.6bn, after Millicom announced it had appointed Morgan Stanley to advise it.

The share price rally came as investors anticipate a potential bidding war for the company, with six of the world’s largest operators thought to be eyeing its cellular assets, which cover countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Established mobile operators are now desperately looking for growth in emerging markets as their core western markets reach saturation point.

Vodafone is widely regarded as having greatly overpaid in an auction late last year when it bought Telsim, Turkey’s second-largest operator, for $4.6bn. Vodafone is again expected to be one of the companies looking at Millicom but it could face stiff competition from rivals including Spain’s Telefónica, Norway’s Telenor, Egypt’s Orascom and Mexico’s América Móvil.

People close to the situation said China Mobile was also one of the potential suitors, in the latest example of the desire for overseas acquisitions by a large Chinese company. However a spokeswoman for China Mobile denied that the state-controlled group had approached Millicom.

Millicom declined to comment on the identity of the suitors but Marc Beuls, chief executive of the Luxembourg-based company, said the number of approaches had gone up substantially in the last two months. “That is what made the board decide to start this process.”

Millicom, in which the Swedish media and telecoms group Kinnevik has a 40 per cent stake, owns mobile networks in 16 countries and has nearly 8m subscribers. In the nine months to September the company had revenues of $792m and underlying earnings of $360m. It is enjoying rapid growth following substantial investment over the past
12 months. Subscriber numbers were up about 50 per cent to 7.9m by the end of September last year.

Mr Beuls said the company did not have any growth targets but he expected growth to continue “at the present rate”. He said the growth so far had not come at the cost of profitability.

Millicom operates in 16 countries, including Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Cambodia, Laos and Pakistan.

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