x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Etisalat eyes majority stake in rival Zain

Etisalat is interested in buying a majority stake in Zain, the Kuwaiti mobile company that competes with the UAE national operator across the Middle East and Africa.

The UAE mobile operator may buy out its Kuwaiti rival Zain, but some analysts say the deal may be too big to pull off.
The UAE mobile operator may buy out its Kuwaiti rival Zain, but some analysts say the deal may be too big to pull off.

Etisalat is interested in buying a majority stake in Zain, the Kuwaiti mobile company that competes with the UAE national operator in markets across the Middle East and Africa, the company said ­yesterday. Zain is valued at US$17.6 billion (Dh64.64bn) and said yesterday it was conducting a strategic review that could see it sell its assets in sub-Saharan Africa. But Jamal al Jarwan, the head of Etisalat's international investments unit, said the company was considering buying a controlling stake in the entire Zain group, which also operates networks in Gulf markets such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. "We are interested in Zain as a whole, given the right values," Mr al Jarwan told Reuters, adding the company "makes a compelling story for us". Etisalat quickly clarified that the company was not in discussions with Zain over such a deal. In a separate statement, Zain's media and communications manager, Antoine Aboukhalil, said the company was at an advanced stage of discussions with companies interested in acquiring Zain's assets in Africa, where the company is a market leader in 13 of the 20 countries in which it operates. "Several parties have already expressed their interest in acquiring Zain's African assets," the statement said. "The board of directors of Zain has, therefore, decided to give these parties access to information as part of a process to allow them to formulate proposals." Etisalat voiced its interest in Zain on the same day it announced its participation in the auction of Libya's new mobile licence, the first to be made available to foreign investors. The company will compete with other international players, including Turkey's Turkcell, which announced its participation in the tender earlier in the month. Libya's telecommunications sector is controlled by the government-owned General Post and Telecommunications, which owns the country's two mobile networks, Libyana and Almadar. Etisalat officials have spoken of a careful expansion strategy in the coming year, aiming for smaller, value-for-money assets in places such as Lebanon and Syria. Industry analysts expressed doubt that Etisalat could acquire a controlling stake in Zain, given that the largest shareholders in both companies are their respective governments. tgara@thenational.ae