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Vodafone Third-quarter Customer Additions Top Forecasts

British mobile phone giant Vodafone Group beat market forecasts for quarterly customer additions on Wednesday, and reiterated its annual forecasts for revenue growth and profit margins.

The acquisitive firm, which is now eyeing a controlling stake in India's fourth-biggest mobile operator Hutchison Essar, said it added a net 8.7 million new customers in its fiscal third quarter to December 31, taking its total to 198.6 million.

"I am also pleased to announce today that we now have 200 million proportionate customers globally ... This is ... an important milestone for Vodafone," Chief Executive Arun Sarin said in a statement.

Europe's biggest mobile phone group said its mobile revenue rose 6.1% during the key Christmas quarter, with growth in emerging markets such as eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa far outpacing core Western Europe markets.

Vodafone was expected to add a net 7.5 million customers in the quarter, according to the average forecast of 12 analysts polled by Reuters. The average forecast for revenue growth was 6.2%.

Vodafone, the world's biggest mobile operator outside China, said it expected mobile revenue growth for the year to be within its previously indicated range of 5 to 6.5% and mobile EBITDA margin one percentage point lower.

Earlier this week, rival Deutsche Telekom sent shivers through the European telecoms sector with a profit warning -- its second in six months -- blaming fierce competition in the German market.

Hutchison Telecom

Vodafone, one of at least four bidders in the race for Hutchison Telecom International's controlling stake in Hutchison Essar, did not say if it had put in a formal bid.

"The board remains committed to only pursuing transactions that create value for shareholders and that meet the group's stated financial investment criteria," it said.

Vodafone, which is increasingly dependent on growth in emerging markets to compensate for slowing growth in western Europe, is battling India's Reliance Communication and the Essar and Hinduja groups in the race for Hutchison Essar.

Shares in Vodafone, which have gained 28% in the past five months, closed at 147 pence on Tuesday, giving it a market value of around 77.6 billion pounds.

The stock is traded at 13.6 times forecast earnings, compared with 14.1 for the DJ Stoxx European telecoms index.