NOTE: I got tweeted by an executive at Lattelecom, see below.
The Latvian government seems to have re-opened the seemingly dormant issue of selling its holdings in fixed network operator Lattelecom and mobile operator Latvian Mobile Telephone (LMT). During an October 16 television talk show, where this blogger was one of the journalist participants, Minister of Economics Artis Kampars said the government was ready to consider selling its telecom assets, but added that the most eager (and probably only) potential buyer, Sweden's TeliaSonera, had not named a price in talks with the Latvians in early September. By Kampars' account, that meeting was one where the sides got nowhere by saying: "What do you want for the companies?" "No, you tell us what you are ready to pay." "No, you please tell us what you want..." and so on.
Kampars also repeated what he had said publically a few days earlier, that state assets, including Lattelecom and LMT, would not be sold "on the cheap." TeliaSonera recently completed acquisition of all remaining shares in Eesti Telecom (which, unlike Lattelecom and LMT, is a traded company and already had a majority holding by the Swedes). Telia Sonera was less successfully with Lithuania's TEO, failing to get the necessary percentage of shares to delist the company and force the sale of any remaining minority shares.
I haven't been in touch with my Swedish sources about the latest chapter of the neverending story of trying to buy Lattelecom and LMT, but will try to do so before I leave for the States on Wednesday to attend an IBM conference in Las Vegas (October 25 -28).
Latvia is in dire need of any revenues to patch its budget deficit and, considering that telecoms have not suffered too badly in the crisis and against a background of rising stock markets in Europe and the US, the two unlisted companies could probably be sold for a decent price. Of course, Kampars and the Latvian government will never see another LVL 500 million bid by the Swedes, as was made a couple of years back in one of the "fat years" of real-estate bubble and lending frenzy. Interestingly, the sum is exactly as much as international lenders want Latvia to cut from its spending in 2010 and 2011 (for a total of LVL 1 billion). But that chance was blown. Maybe they could try for, say, LVL 400 million and settle for LVL 375 million -- these are just my wild guesses. Even without the deep recession, which I think will last at least until 2014 in Latvia, the value of any fixed-line network will decline as everything goes mobile and 4G networks appear. So the best bid has already been lost -- maybe it is time to seize the opportunity.
From Twitter: A Lattelecom executive tweeted me that he believes the company will gain in value because of broadband, IP TV and content distribution (IP TV, video on demand and the like). Welcome to the new web order :).