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France Telecom: profits of doom

Observers have been quick to cite increased competition and a resulting revenue decline for the drop, but nearly all the profit shortfall is attributable to France Telecom’s own ‘write-downs’ to the tune of 1.8 billion euros. Revenues were down by only 2.7 per cent which, given the fierce price competition unleashed in France last year, seems remarkably resilient.

What is apparent with both the FT and the underlying stock market write-down of the telcos is that investors and the industry alike are re-visiting their assumptions about long-term telco revenue growth - pervasive gloom (or perhaps it's just stark reality) has settled on the European telecom sector.

Greater regulatory oversight to encourage competition (competition and levels of price and service vary greatly across Europe) and (so far) EU government resistance to telco pleas for a “level the playing field” in their favour in relation to OTT players, means the old investor carrot of “just wait until we get all these highly profitable mobile services up and rolling” no longer holds the old magic. Investors now think that mobile telcos are likely to remain the pipe rather than somehow become the piper leading the mobile applications market.

That change in sentiment was stark today with the announcement that ‘only’ £2.3 billion had been raised by the LTE spectrum auctions in the UK, compared to the £22.5 billion paid here 12 years ago for 3G spectrum - such was the confidence then that mobile spectrum ownership was a license to print money.

As we know, however, it wasn’t. The laughable mobile TV model, for instance, bit the dust almost immediately and it took the arrival of the touch sensitive smartphone, Facebook and all the other OTTs to provide something at the other end of a mobile broadband link worth paying telcos access to.

Perhaps sanity has at last returned to the European mobile market.

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