January 26, 2018 / 8:23 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-Telia raises 2017 dividend, sells Georgia unit

(Adds detail, background)

STOCKHOLM, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Nordic telecom operator Telia Company on Friday announced the sale of its Georgia operation at a marginal loss as it met fourth-quarter earnings forecasts and raised its dividend.

Fintur Holdings, in which Telia has a 58.55 percent stake and mobile operator Turcell owns the rest, has sold Georgian operator Geocell LLC to Georgia’s largest fixed network operator, JSC Silknet, for $153 million, Telia said.

“I’m happy to announce another step in our effort, to over time leave Eurasia and focus on the Nordic and Baltic regions,” Telia CEO Johan Dennelind said in a statement.

Telia said in September 2015 it would gradually abandon its Central Asian markets, which had been hit by years of investigations into alleged corruption linked to local partners and problems accessing cash in distant countries.

The company has since exited three of seven countries in its so called Eurasian unit: Nepal, Tajikistan and now Georgia.

For the fourth quarter Telia reported a profit before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of 6.59 billion Swedish crowns ($834 million) excluding non-recurring items.

That was up from 6.38 billion a year earlier and broadly in line with the 6.6 billion forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.

The Swedish company said it had taken an impairment of 3.55 billion crowns in the fourth quarter related to the ongoing sales process involving Fintur units Azercell, Moldcell and Geocell. It took a separate impairment charge of 300 million related to Ucell.

The Fintur impairment was mainly due to a decision to sell assets separately and not combined, Dennelind told Reuters.

In its third-quarter report, Telia had said it hoped to sell its businesses in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Moldova by the end of 2017.

Telia proposed raising its dividend to 2.30 crowns/share from 2.00 crowns in 2016, topping expectations of 2.15 crowns in the analysts poll.

It said it expected this year’s dividend to be around the 2017 level.

Telia sees 2018 adjusted EBITDA in line with or slightly above its 2017 level of 25.4 billion crowns and forecast 2018 cash flow around the same level as in 2017.

Telia shares rose as much as 3.3 percent in early trade and were up by 1.6 percent by 0814 GMT helped by the higher dividend, analysts said.

$1 = 7.9034 Swedish crowns Reporting by Olof Swahnberg and Helena Soderpalm; editing by Jason Neely

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