Shares of Slim's America Movil tumble on weak earnings

MEXICO CITY Thu Feb 14, 2013 3:20am IST

Carlos Slim Helu, Mexican telecommunications and retail tycoon, in Mexico City October 14, 2012. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Carlos Slim Helu, Mexican telecommunications and retail tycoon, in Mexico City October 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Edgard Garrido

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - America Movil (AMXL.MX) (AMX.N), the flagship company of Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, suffered its biggest share price loss in more than four years after the phone company reported disappointing earnings, hit by weak revenue and higher costs.

The firm owned by Slim, the world's richest man, has been struggling against stronger competition in Brazil and other Latin American countries, while in Mexico regulators have reduced the fees it charges rivals to connect to its network.

On a call with analysts on Wednesday morning, America Movil executives sounded cautious and said the company is facing slowing revenue growth related to a wider economic slowdown, as well as regulatory and competitive headwinds.

Cash-rich America Movil has gained a reputation for aggressive acquisitions and it snapped up large stakes in two European phone companies last year.

However, those investments have cost Slim dearly and America Movil executives said they are not considering acquisitions for now and will maintain spending at last year's levels.

America Movil shares fell as much as 9.9 percent to 14.27 pesos on Wednesday, their biggest one-day drop since October 2008, prompting Slim's bank Inbursa to buy shares in the company, helping to prop up the stock price.

The company late on Tuesday reported a fourth-quarter profit of 14.962 billion pesos, far below analysts' expectations of 24.131 billion pesos.

"Investors are recognizing that the actual and future growth of this company is looking less and less attractive," said Carlos Ponce, analyst at Ve Por Mas brokerage. "That's due in large part to the company's maturity, but also it tells you a lot about the context of more regulation and competition."

Regulators have cut the amount America Movil can charge rivals to connect to its Telcel mobile network, which has 70 percent market share in Mexico, which also trimmed the company's revenue locally and led to a wider drop in phone fees.

Currency weakness in markets outside of Mexico also hit the results of America Movil, whose shares on Wednesday were trading at their lowest price since August 2011.

The company said that excluding the currency impact, revenue increased 5.8 percent from the previous year's quarter.

The company's sales were "quite good" said Martin Lara, telecoms analyst at Actinver in Mexico City, adding that America Movil has not been a high-growth company for some time.

"This company stopped being amazing around 2008," he said.

Still, America Movil's Chief Executive Officer Daniel Hajj said he was optimistic for steady revenue growth in 2013.

"I think we are on track; we're growing," Hajj said. "That's going to give us better revenue in the future."

EXPENSIVE LOSSES

Nevertheless, the share drop follows a challenging 12 months for America Movil, which failed to keep up with a buoyant stock market in Mexico last year and is sitting on large paper losses from its expensive acquisitions in Europe.

Shares in America Movil finished 2012 down 5.8 percent on the previous year's close, compared with a nearly 18 percent gain in the IPC .MXX, Mexico's leading stock index.

Slim's family has lost about 26 billion pesos on paper since Tuesday's close, based on Securities and Exchange Commission filings that detail the family trust's holdings of America Movil shares.

Like other phone companies, America Movil is subsidizing smartphones to transfer customers to more lucrative data plans. Income is also under pressure due to lower interconnection fees.

Mexico's Central Bank said phone prices dropped about 20 percent in both November and December last year. However, in January, they bounced back by about a fifth.

Fending off questions from analysts about the firm's costs, CEO Hajj said the company was fighting to keep subsidies for smartphones down, but it has to keep up with competitors' prices for the Internet-enabled equipment.

To diversify its revenue, America Movil has expanded into new services and looked outside Mexico for acquisitions.

Last year the company spent billions of dollars building up a 26 percent holding in Telekom Austria (TELA.VI) and a nearly 28 percent stake in Dutch company KPN (KPN.AS).

However, Telekom Austria's share price has fallen more than a third since Slim upped his stake in Telekom Austria in June. KPN's shares are worth less than half the price the Mexican paid to increase his hold on the Dutch firm a month earlier.

Earlier this month, KPN laid out plans for a 4 billion euro rights issue to bolster its finances, and America Movil's Chief Financial Officer Carlos Garcia Moreno said the company would make a statement on KPN's capital raise next week.

Although KPN shares have dropped sharply, Actinver's Lara noted that the investment makes up a very small part of America Movil's results. "It's not KPN that's caused America Movil to fall 9 percent," he said. (Additional reporting by Lorena Segura, Alexandra Alper, Jean Luis Arce, Tomas Sarmiento, Krista Hughes and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Dave Graham, Lisa Von Ahn, Andrew Hay and Leslie Gevirtz)

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