Optus clings to flotation hopes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 1997, 12:00am

Australia's second-largest phone company, Optus Communications, in which Cable & Wireless and BellSouth each hold 24.5 per cent stakes, says it remains hopeful of a stockmarket float later this year, despite facing litigation over its pay-TV operation Optus Vision.

The company, which began offering long-distance telephone calls to the Australian market five years ago, postponed its A$4 billion (about HK$24.4 billion) listing last year because of the litigation between its 46.5 per cent owned Optus Vision and the Seven television network.

Optus chief executive Ziggy Switkowski said yesterday: 'The timetable for this year is still very much our desire.' Optus yesterday unveiled a year-on-year jump in net profit from $7 million to $59 million for the half-year to December, featuring a 32 per cent rise in total revenues to $1.2 billion.

Revenues from mobile phones jumped 58 per cent to $530 million.

Mr Switkowski said: 'In just five years Optus has set a record of revenue growth which many of Australia's major corporates would envy.

'These achievements give Optus a very strong platform for continued growth in the deregulated environment which will begin in July 1997.' He said that Optus now had an 18 per cent share of the long-distance market and 32 per cent of the total mobile-phone market.

Optus forecast a strong result for the year to June 30.

Sales are expected to continue the strong trend in the 1996-97 second half, chief operating officer Phil Jacobs said.

'It will be somewhere near a similar amount,' Mr Jacobs said.

Telecoms analysts in Sydney reacted positively to the first-half figures.

One said: 'Optus is doing very well in the marketplace at the moment.

'They have basically increased their market share in all areas.' However, analysts were rather more cautious about the timing of the proposed stockmarket float.

One said: 'I don't think anybody is betting too much money on it being this year.

'Switkowski is being extremely optimistic.' Up to 51 per cent of the group could be floated on the Australian Stock Exchange once the litigation is resolved.

However, analysts say that with the proposed $8 billion partial privatisation of Australia's largest phone company, Telstra, also scheduled to take place within the next year, the appetite of institutional investors for telecom shares could be diminished.