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The BBC's Julian Lorkin
"BT has cut its debt by 10 million pounds"
 real 56k

Thursday, 26 July, 2001, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
BT profits fall again
BT workers and phone boxes
BT is planning to split its business into two parts
Embattled British Telecom (BT) has made progress in reducing its debt mountain, but admitted that its performance was still no better than "satisfactory".

Chairman Sir Christopher Bland said that the firm had slashed 10.4bn from its debts, which had reached an "unsustainable" level of 27.9bn in March.

BT results summary
second quarter
Turnover: 5,454m
(Q2 2000: 4,732m)
Underlying profit: 186m
(Q2 2000: 637m)
Net debt: 17.5bn
(end-Q1 2001: 27.9bn)
Profit from disposals: 4.5bn
(Year to April 2001: 619m)

But he also unveiled another drop in quarterly earnings, with underlying profits falling to 186m in the three months to 30 June.

Compared with the previous quarter, BT's profits have almost halved, while in the same quarter a year ago, BT earned 637m.

The company also said its job cuts could total 6,000 this year, rather than the 5,000 previously indicated, with 1,500 jobs likely to go at its Ignite corporate data business in Europe.

BT blamed the expense of servicing company debt as part of the reason for its lower profits.

The cost of paying interest on the company's debt rose by 235m to 474m in the quarter.

The results were roughly in line with analysts' expectations and BT's stock closed up 0.75p at 454.75p.

Debt battle

The key measure in cutting down BT's debt was a 5.9bn discounted issue of new shares, which went off successfully in June.

We are ahead of schedule to meet our debt reduction target

Sir Christopher Bland, BT
The firm also made a number of disposals of investments and businesses, which generated 6bn in cash over the quarter.

This helped BT boost earnings per share to 57.9p, compared with just 4.2p in the same quarter of 2000.

"We are ahead of schedule to meet our debt reduction target," Sir Christopher said in a statement.

BT added it was on track to achieve savings of 575m in the current year.

Company split

BT is planning to split into two, spinning off its mobile interests into a separate company, BT Wireless, and bundling the rest of its operations in another unit, Future BT.

BT is staring into the abyss, risking inflicting irreversible damage to its future prospects for highly questionable short-term benefits

Jeannie Drake,
The group said the demerger of BT Wireless, scheduled for completion this year, was proceeding as planned, despite opposition from trade unions.

The communications union CWU, which has almost 80,000 members in BT, has hit out at the spin-off plans.

"BT is staring into the abyss, risking inflicting irreversible damage to its future prospects for highly questionable short-term benefits which may prove illusory," CWU deputy general secretary Jeannie Drake said last week.

Divisional differences

BT Wireless had an operating loss of 95m on sales of 1bn, hurt by losses at two European subsidiaries, Viag Interkom in Germany and Telfort in the Netherlands.

BT chief executive Peter Bonfield
Bonfield: In talks over troubled Concert venture

BT chief executive Peter Bonfield said the firm was looking at plans to revive Viag, including a closer focus on business customers.

Retail, the firm's UK fixed-line business, raised operating profits to 316m from 225m a year ago.

But Retail continued to suffer from price competition and increasing calls to mobiles.

Retail's new BT Together packages, offering cheaper or unmetered calls, cost it 90m in the quarter, equivalent to a 6% cut in call prices.

Concert concerns

The Concert corporate telecoms joint venture with AT&T of the United States remains a burden, and left BT shouldering a loss of 81m.

The continuing poor performance at Concert is likely to renew speculation that BT would seek to pull out.

"We're having very constructive discussions with AT&T about the future of Concert," but a resolution is months rather than weeks away, Mr Bonfield said.

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See also:

26 Jun 01 | Business
BT mulls higher high speed prices
22 Sep 00 | Business
Oftel hits back as criticism mounts
27 Jun 01 | Business
Oftel orders BT to cut prices
13 Jun 01 | Business
BT hires demerger specialist
18 Jun 01 | Business
BT wraps up share sale
10 May 01 | Business
BT attacks debt mountain
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