Rumours that Hutchison Whampoa’s 3 Austria is close to sealing a deal to acquire Orange Austria (previously One before being rebranded) for €1.4bn may be good news for the Austrian mobile sector which has seen fierce competition as four operators battled it out in a country of eight million people. It is estimated that in service revenue terms Hutchison has about 6% of the Austrian mobile market while Orange has about 19%. By comparison, Telekom Austria has 44% and T-Mobile has 31 % so the merged entity will still be smaller than its larger competitors. Although the price seems quite steep at circa 7x EBITDA it may well be justified if 3 Austria can extract hundreds of millions of synergies from the deal by rationalising the networks and avoiding damaging price and subscriber acquisition wars. Post-merger execution will needless to say be critical.
The two other operators in the market (Telekom Austria and T-Mobile) will also benefit and no doubt they will be hoping that the deal is approved by the competition authorities. This might explain, if the press reports are true, why Telekom Austria is so keen to help 3 Austria do the deal by, for example, buying Orange’s discount mobile brand Yesss! as well as some 2.1GHz spectrum and 3,000 redundant base stations. Press reports suggest that 3 Austria will raise up to €300m from these divestments which will lower the overall transaction risk.
In the coming years we expect further mobile network operator consolidation in developed markets as the industry becomes increasingly mature and margins come under further pressure. For Hutchison Whampoa, this represents a new wave of investment in Austria and its 3G business and we wonder if it is not a template to be used in other markets where it is finding the going tough.
Written by Scott McKenzie, Director, Coleago Consulting