Gulf investors eye Jordan Telecom IPO

11 October 2002

Interest from Gulf investors is expected to carry through an initial public offering (IPO) of 37.5 million shares in Jordan Telecomdespite tight market conditions, analysts say. JP Morganhas been appointed lead manager for the offering, which represents 15 per cent of the company's share capital. The offering closes on 31 October.

The government stands to make as much as $142.5 million from the sale, and has hailed the IPO as a testament to Jordan's commitment to privatisation. However, analysts say the pricing of the issue is unlikely to whet the appetite of international investors. The share price has been set at between JD 2.3 ($3.3) and JD 2.7 ($3.8). On the basis of Jordan Telecom's profits last year, which stood at JD 46 million ($65 million), the IPO offers an uninspiring price-to-earnings ratio of 12.5-14.7. 'It is not a compelling story,' says one London-based investment banker. 'It is not cheap, and does not offer a good deal either as a yield play or a growth play.'

Doubts have also been expressed about the timing of the sale. 'The fact that the government is having the IPO is itself positive, but it has chosen one of the worst times to do it,' says an Amman-based financial analyst. 'Global telecoms stocks are down and we could be on the edge of a major war in the Middle East. I think it has definitely been overvalued. Jordan Telecom is not growing as a company and the leading GSM operator has taken away a lot of custom.'

The rapid growth of Jordan Mobile Telephone Services Company (Fastlink) has put pressure on both fixed-line operator Jordan Telecom and its sister GSM operator MobilCom. Fastlink now has over 830,000 subscribers, with 100,000 signing up for its services in the second quarter of 2002 alone. With 75 per cent year-on-year subscriber growth, the company now commands a significant share of the market. As of 15 September, MobilCom had fewer than 300,000 subscribers. However, the deal's promoters have argued that strong economic growth in Jordan could yield as many as one million fresh subscribers in the next five years.

France Telecom, which owns a 40 per cent stake in Jordan Telecom with Amman-based Arab Bank, will become the main shareholder following the sale. Despite doubts about Jordan Telecom's prospects for growth, France Telecom executives say that having gained management control of the company they intend to use Jordan as a hub for regional expansion. Iraq is thought to be one market that could offer major rewards.

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