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Customers visit a Smart outlet in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Photo supplied
Customers visit a Smart outlet in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Photo supplied

Axiata mulls Smart stake sale

Malaysian telecom giant Axiata Group will consider divesting a portion of its stake in Cambodian mobile operator Smart Axiata Co Ltd in a bid to free up capital to “pursue opportunities”, including infrastructure expansion and future acquisitions, a company executive said yesterday.

Currently, Axiata holds a 92.5 percent stake in Smart, which claims over 7.5 million subscribers.

Speaking at the Axiata Regional Media Summit, Chari Thandalam Veeravalli Thirumala, Group Chief Financial Officer of Axiata, said the company would consider selling up to 40 percent of its stake in Smart to a strategic investor, providing the company “can find the right partner.”

“Why do we need 80 percent of a company, for instance? We [only] need 51 percent for control, but anything beyond we can sell and use . . . [the proceeds] to pursue opportunities” he said.

While he stressed that the stake sale was only one proposal to raise funds for expansion, he said in Smart’s case Axiata would consider a local strategic partner, or a foreign partner from a country “friendly to Cambodia,” such as China.

He said the proceeds of a stake sale could be used to fund infrastructure growth or acquisitions in or out of Cambodia.

He added that the company could consider acquiring one of Cambodia’s smaller telecoms, including qb.

Axiata currently has full or partial stakes in telecom operators in Asian countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Singapore.

Thirumala expects capital expenditure to exceed $1.3 billion across the group this year.

He said Smart was one of the company's most successful growth stories of its portfolio.

For the first half of this year, Smart posted revenues of $122 million, a 22 percent year-on-year increase, with a capital expenditure of around $35 million, according to Axiata.

Thirumvala valued Smart as “probably worth nearly $1 billion,” and estimated that the telecom has a 57 percent market share for data subscribers with nearly 3 million clients.

“We wish we could have similar execution in our other ventures,” he said.

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