May 31, 2018 / 7:31 AM / a year ago

Israel's Partner Comms Q1 profit sinks, plans to buy back shares

JERUSALEM, May 31 (Reuters) - Partner Communications , Israel’s second-largest mobile phone operator, reported an 86 percent drop in quarterly profit as it continues to invest heavily in the deployment of a fibre-optics network and its TV service.

The company also said it planned to buy back up to 200 million shekels ($56 million) of its own shares traded in Tel Aviv between June 4 and May 30, 2019. The plan will be implemented in tranches, with the first amounting to 50 million shekels.

Partner said on Thursday it earned 9 million shekels in the first quarter, down from 64 million a year earlier. Revenue rose 3 percent to 826 million shekels, with its cellular subscriber base falling by 7,000 in the first quarter to 2.67 million.

Partner’s revenue and profit have plunged in the wake of a 2012 reform that opened up the mobile market to new players, sharply reducing prices. It is seeking new revenue streams and is making a push to become an integrated multi-service telecoms group.

The company said about 65,000 consumers had connected to Partner TV, an internet-based TV service offering cut-rate packages it launched a year ago in partnership with Netflix . In April, Partner signed a deal with Amazon Prime Video.

Partner said it was in advanced talks with rival Cellcom regarding possible collaboration in the fibre optic infrastructure that both companies are rolling out, in order to enable a faster deployment rate at a lower cost which will improve the economic returns from the project.

“The deployment of the fibre optic infrastructure was accelerated significantly, and by year end, we intend to be present in over half of the cities in Israel,” said Partner chief executive Isaac Benbenisti.

Partner also said it was in the process of examining other growth opportunities, including conducting an initial assessment of entry into the credit and debit card market, through either acquisitions or internal development.

On Wednesday, Cellcom, Israel’s largest mobile phone operator, reported a 73 percent fall in quarterly profit. Another rival, Pelephone, a unit of Bezeq , posted a 49 percent decline in first-quarter profit. ($1 = 3.5680 shekels) (Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Mark Potter)

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