France Telecom close to deal to exit Austria


France Telecom hopes to finalize a deal to sell its 35% stake in Orange Austria to Hutchison 3G in the coming days or weeks, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The deal would value Orange Austria, jointly owned by France Telecom (Paris) and private equity firm Mid-Europa Partners, at around $1.3 billion, according to Austrian media reports.

"We hope to sign in the next few days or weeks," the source said.

The sale would be the second deal in an ongoing portfolio review at France Telecom, which is aimed at exiting low-growth mature markets and returning cash to shareholders.

France Telecom recently agreed to sell Orange Switzerland to private equity group Apax Partners for about $2 billion.

It has also said that it would like to sell a minority stake it holds in Sonaecom, a Portugal-based operator.

Hutchison 3G (Hong Kong, P.R.C.), a unit of conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, is already present in the Austrian market under the brand name '3'."

The deal would boost Hutchison from number four to number three in the Austrian market, behind T-Mobile and market leader A1.

Mid-Europa declined to comment. Hutchison could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Leila Abboud and Simon Meads; Editing by David Cowell)


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