* Singapore, Australia EBITDA to grow at low-single-digit
* Shares have underperformed market in 2009
(adds detail on outlook)
By Harry Suhartono
SINGAPORE, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Singapore Telecommunications (STEL.SI), Southeast Asia’s biggest telecom firm, predicted a cautious outlook for growth in its core markets after second-quarter profit jumped 18.8 percent, its second successive increase in quarterly profit.
SingTel, which owns Optus in Australia and stakes in mobile operators across Asia, said on Wednesday its operating revenue in Singapore and Australia will grow at a single-digit level and EBITDA will expand at a low single-digit pace.
Singapore and Australia accounted for 54 percent of the group’s EBITDA — earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation — in the second quarter.
SingTel said its associates Bharti Airtel (BRTI.BO) and Telkomsel earnings will also likely grow in local currency terms, but ordinary dividends from regional mobile associates will be lower.
SingTel’s associates in Indonesia and India are facing growing competition from rivals.
“Our strong financial results were achieved amid a cautious economic climate and despite the negative currency impact,” SingTel Group CEO Chua Sock Koong said in a statement.
The company said its revenue, which grew 5.4 percent to S$4.1 billion, would have increased by 8 percent had the Australian dollar been stable from the same quarter a year ago.
Analysts are expecting SingTel, which also provides high-speed internet and pay-TV to its customers, to face tougher competition in its home market, especially after its two local rivals — StarHub (STAR.SI) and MobileOne (MONE.SI) — obtained licences to sell Apple’s (AAPL.O) popular iPhone.
But they expect Singapore’s most valuable listed company to gain more market share in pay-TV segment after it won the rights to broadcast English Premier League soccer in the city-state for three seasons beginning next year.
The company, around 55 percent-owned by state investor Temasek [TEM.UL], posted July-September underlying net profit before goodwill and exceptionals of S$952 million ($685.9 million) compared with an average forecast of S$956 million in a Reuters survey of five analysts.
The quarterly underlying net profit was 18.8 percent higher than the year-ago’s S$801 million.
SingTel increased its aggregate global subscriber base by a 26 percent to 273 million.
Its Indonesian affiliate, PT Telekomunikasi Seluler (Telkomsel), reported a 36 percent rise in quarterly net profit, helped by improvement in its revenue per users and higher data usage from customers.
Bharti Airtel (BRTI.BO), which SingTel recently boosted its stake in to about 32 percent, reported a lower-than-expected 13 percent rise in its second-quarter net profit as an increasing number of low-paying users and price competition weighed.
SingTel shares are up by about 15 percent so far in 2009, underperforming a 54 percent gain on the broader Singapore share index .FTSTI.
Facing a domestic market of 5 million people where virtually everyone has a mobile phone, SingTel has spent S$18 billion in recent years buying stakes in mobile operators in high-growth Asian countries such as India, Indonesia and in the bigger Australian market.
SingTel derives around three-quarters of its revenue and EBITDA from operations outside Singapore. (Editing by Lincoln Feast and Saeed Azhar)