SingTel's Fourth-Quarter Net Profit Slips 41%

Singapore Telecommunications, Southeast Asia's largest phone company, posted a 41% drop in quarterly profit after its results in the year ago period were boosted by one-off gains,
but still beat market expectations.

Fourth-quarter attributable net profit was at S$989 million (US$653 million) versus S$1.68 billion last year, bringing full-year 2006/07 net profit to S$3.78 billion.

The quarterly net profit was above an average net profit forecast of S$904 million by 17 analysts polled by Reuters Estimates.

State-controlled SingTel -- Singapore's largest listed firm, headed by new chief executive Chua Sock Koong -- made underlying net profit before goodwill and exceptionals of S$971 million in January-March, versus S$1 billion a year ago.

"We are balancing our objective for an efficient balance sheet with financial flexibility to make further investments", Chua said in a statement. The company said it hoped to achieve double-digit underlying earnings growth over the medium term.
The company also proposed to return S$3.3 billion in capital to shareholders via a dividend payment of 20.5 Singapore cents per share.

Battling heavy competition and a mobile phone penetration rate of 100% in its tiny home market of 4.5 million people, SingTel has spent about S$20 billion in recent years buying firms in high-growth Asian countries and in the bigger Australian market.

SingTel owns 21.5% of Thailand's Advanced Info Service, 30.8% of India's Bharti Group, 44.6% of Globe Telecom in the Philippines, 35% of Indonesia's PT Telkomsel and 45% of Pacific Bangladesh Telecom.

In Australia, where its Optus business faces fierce competition, quarterly net profit rose 11% year-on-year to A$155 million (US$128 million).

SingTel shares were flat in January-March, underperforming an 8.2% rise in the Straits Times Index.