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Graham Howe, Orange Chief Executive
"We have only 5 billion euros debt"
 real 56k

Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 08:28 GMT
Orange sets date for mobile upgrade

Orange, the loss-making mobile phone subsidiary of France Telecom, has said it will launch its next generation GPRS mobile phones in France and the UK this summer.

The announcement came along with revelations that Orange suffered a net loss of 1.3bn euros (815m, $1.164bn) in 2000.

Michel Bon, France Telecom general manager
The stock market launch of Orange failed to impress investors
The losses were similar to those faced during 1999 and occurred in part because the company has invested in new technology and in building its brand.

The losses were slightly bigger than analysts' 1.25bn euros predictions.

However, Orange's operating profits rose to 383m euros from a 111m euros loss in 1999.

Mobile data

Orange's turnover rose 59% to 12bn euros and the company saw its customer base increase to more than 30 million people, a 68% rise.

Much of the growth was seen in data services, that is the transfer of data rather than voice via mobile phones.

Orange expects to make 25% of its revenues from data transfers by 2005.

Users of these services will benefit when the next generation mobiles, GPRS, are launched because data will be transmitted faster.

Motorola will be providing the handsets.

France Telecom

Orange's parent France Telecom also failed to meet analysts expectations for the group's 2000 results.

The French group's net profits rose 32% to 3.66bn euros in 2000, compared to analysts' predictions of a 34% rise.

"Overall the results are in line," said Wargny telecoms analyst Jean-Pierre Jeremy.

"The only problem is the debt -- not the level which was expected but the fact that it is high," he said.

Its debts ballooned to 61bn euros from 14.6bn euros in 1999. About 5bn euros of the debt was owed by Orange.

The debts arose because France Telecom borrowed to buy Orange and to buy third-generation mobile telephony licences.

France Telecom's internet service provider Wanadoo suffered a net loss of 102m euros, a sharp rise from 1.9m losses in 1999.

Orange stock market float

The French telecom firm had hoped to raise a vast sum of money from floating Orange on the stock market last month.

The income from Orange shares should have helped it reduce its mountain of debt.

But in the end, the sale of Orange shares flopped; at about 9.50 euros (6) per share, the stock market float valued the company at between 46bn and 49bn euros, much lower than predicted.

Now analysts want to know what France Telecom will do to slash its debts.

Many expect an announcement that the group will sell non-strategic assets, including holdings in Deutsche Telekom, Sprint, Sema and STMicroelectronics.

Since flotation on 13 February, the Orange share price has fallen sharply, though it has recovered from its lows seen early this month.

France Telecom shares fell 1.03% to 57.50 euros by 0815 GMT. Since March last year, the market has wiped off 75 percent of the stock's value.

Orange shares climbed 0.45% to 8.85 euros and Wanadoo stock jumped 5.41% to 5.26 euros.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | Business
Orange float causes credit downgrade
14 Feb 01 | Business
Orange leads fresh telecoms slump
13 Feb 01 | Business
Investors lose on Orange debut
13 Feb 01 | Business
The future of orange
07 Feb 01 | Business
A bright outlook for Orange?
07 Feb 01 | Business
Orange share price cut
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