Qtel set to gain control of Kuwait’s Wataniya telecom

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Wataniya Telecom is majority owned by Qatar Telecom. Photo – Commsmea.com

Qatar Telecom (Qtel) is poised to control more than 90% of Kuwait’s Wataniya after the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund tendered its entire stake in the unit, a Reuters report quoting two unnamed sources said on late Saturday.

Wataniya was offered $2.2 billion in August by Qtel for the 47.5% it does not already own. The Qatari telecoms giant operates in 16 countries across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The tender offer expired on 4 October.

Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) is one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds with about $300 billion in assets. It is also the second biggest shareholder in Wataniya with a stake of 23.5%.

“The KIA has decided to tender its full stake. Qtel will own more than 90% of Wataniya after the offer and the shares will continue to be listed on the Kuwait bourse,” a source told Reuters while speaking on condition of anonymity.

KIA and Qtel were not immediately available for comment outside business hours on Saturday.

The first source told Reuters to expect a statement by the Kuwait bourse on Sunday which would give details on the percentage of shares tendered.

Qtel bought its controlling Wataniya stake in 2007 but is seeking full control to capitalise on the telco’s weak share price and attractive growth prospects in emerging markets such as Algeria and Tunisia.

KIA also holds 23.5% stakes in Kuwait’s largest telecoms operator Zain and unlisted Viva.

In 2010, when United Arab Emirates telecom company Etisalat bid around $12 billion to take control of Zain, the fund was not willing to sell its holding, a banking source told Reuters in August. Etisalat eventually pulled its bid.

“KIA is a financial investor before anything else. It looked at the merits of the offer based on price and decided to take a call which it thought appropriate,” the first source said.

“That does not mean they are a seller for their other telco stakes. Everything comes with a price and sophisticated investors know that well.”

A Wataniya deal would complete a busy few months for Qtel, which completed a $1.9 billion rights issue in May and agreed in June to double its stake in Iraq’s No. 2 telecoms operator, Asiacell, to 60 percent for $1.47 billion. The settlement for the tender is expected to be completed by the end of October, the source said.

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