SINGAPORE - SingTel, Southeast Asia's largest phone firm, said it was on the lookout for acquisitions even as it posted a 16 percent drop in quarterly profits on a strong Singapore dollar that pinched overseas earnings.
Singapore Telecommunications, which earns 70 percent of its earnings from overseas, faces increasing competition in Australia and India, and its recent acquisitions in frontier markets such as Pakistan are still not bearing fruit.
"We continue to look for good acquisitions," CEO Chua Sock Koong told journalists. "Clearly, we are not in a big rush, given the global uncertainties."
She added that SingTel was keen to increase its stake in its associate companies if the price was attractive.
SingTel, 55 percent-held by state investor Temasek, said fiscal third-quarter net profit fell to S$799 million ($536 million) from S$952 million a year earlier, mainly because of the Singapore dollar's strength against currencies in countries where it operates.
The results were above an average S$770 million forecast by four analysts polled by Reuters.
Deutsche Bank said the result was stronger than expected, although loss-making mobile associates in Bangladesh and Pakistan showed "no particular sign of progress."
"Growth in Australia and Singapore remains more robust than we had expected," Deutsche said in a research report. "We remain buyers, particularly as these results demonstrated continued strong operational growth."
The Singapore dollar rose 23 percent against the Australian dollar at the end of December from a year earlier, was up 21 percent versus the Indian rupee and climbed 14 percent against the Indonesian rupiah, SingTel said.
Singapore's largest listed firm said its October-December underlying net profit, or net profit excluding exceptional items, fell to S$838 million from S$931 million a year earlier, broadly in line with market expectations.
SingTel shares were down 2 percent in Australian trade, but gained 0.4 percent in early Singapore trade, lagging a 0.7 percent gain in Singapore's benchmark stock index.
SingTel affirmed its guidance for single digit growth in operating revenue from Singapore and Australia for the year to end-March. Pretax profit contributions from regional associates will be lower partly due to a firm Singapore dollar, it added.
Chua said the global economic slowdown has started to impact the firm, but added that job cuts were a last resort.
SingTel, which owns Australia's number-two telecom firm, Optus, said its Australian operations' earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose 1 percent to A$510 million ($348.6 million) during the quarter.
EBITDA from Singapore rose 14 percent to S$561 million, while EBITDA from regional mobile phone associates fell 27 percent to S$462 million.
Operating revenue fell 3.2 percent to S$3.7 billion.
SingTel owns about 35 percent of Indonesia's PT Telekomunikasi Selular (Telkomsel), around 30 percent of India's Bharti TeleVentures, 21 percent of Thailand's Advanced Info Service and 45 percent of Philippines' Globe Telecom.
The Singapore firm also has stakes in other operators such as Pakistan's Warid and Bangladesh's PBTL, which both suffered bigger October-December losses. SingTel said it remained committed to its investments in Pakistan and Bangladesh and will try to improve their performance.
The group's total number of mobile phone subscribers rose 35.5 percent to 232.4 million in the December quarter.
Reliance Communications' plan to launch GSM mobile services in India will affect Bharti's near-term performance, ABN AMRO Australia said before the results.
With a domestic market of only 4.8 million people, where virtually everyone has a mobile phone, SingTel has spent S$18 billion in recent years to expand overseas through acquisitions.
SingTel shares lost 22 percent in October-December, just beating a 25 percent drop on the Straits Times Index.