Friday, February 03, 2006

The long silence of the half-mother means...

Lattelekom, to use the term common in some European languages (Muttergesellschaft/.de and Moderbolag/.se), has two half-mothers, the Latvian state (51 %) and TeliaSonera (49%). Last summer, the Latvian government put together a three-man commission consisting of Finance Minister Oskars Spurdzins, Minister of Economics Krisjanis Karins and Minister of Transport Ainars Slesers. It has been many moons now, and nothing has been said by these three wise men. A pretty good job of keeping their cards close to their chest.
However, there are mutterings out there that the reason is -- it has been decided to swap the remaining ownership in Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT) for TeliaSonera's shares in Lattelekom. TeliaSonera will, therefore, get the best of second-best alternatives -- the leading and oldest mobile operator, the real prize. Indeed, some of the executives at Lattelekom are said to be resigned to this scenario, which means there will be a finite, but indefinite period of state ownership followed by a firesale of a wireline-only company to whomever.
I've discussed this before and I have made some guesses, one being TDC, which could then pair Bite Group with a fixed operator (useful in the future for high-speed broadband where voice is a feature). Telefonica has also come up, but now one reads they are having trouble getting prime-quality financing for their purchase of UK mobile operator O2.
Now that I mention TDC, which was bought by some private equity funds, I can also imagine a scenario where, instead of some international operator buying Lattelekom, a private equity consortium is formed to get some of the juicier parts of the orphan. Whether the government will sell to them is anothe question (they may find no one else), but, from the viewpoint of Lattelekom holding together as a viable business model, the faster the private equity boys moved in, the better.
Lattelekom's strengths are its national network, its eventual inroads into real broadband (10Mbps in some urban areas by the summer, perhaps) its business process outsourcing (BPO) subsidary C1, network builder Citrus Solutions and any IT and corporate data business it can build around Microlink. It should have opened a POP in Moscow to link Scandinavia (where it has a Swedish POP) and the Baltics with Russian data networks.
In BPO, it is an open secret that Lattelekom is doing data entry and processing work for the Finnish Sonera side of TeliaSonera. This has been kept under wraps and handled very carefully to keep the Finnish unions from going apeshit (so late at night as I write this, I can use all the American slang I want :) ) before the deal is finalized. But expect it to happen soon.
Look, too, for Lattelekom moving more strongly into content/entertainment after the stumbling start of its IPTV service (at 10 Mpbs, it could offer HDTV over IP). With this done, you have a company that looks pretty interesting to the more adventurous but demanding private equity investor.

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