French telecoms multinational Orange says open to selling shares in its Africa and Middle East business

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Orange is present in 19 countries in Africa, making up 11% of total group revenue.

ORANGE SA said it remains open to selling shares in its Africa and Middle East unit or bringing in a strategic or financial partner as France’s largest phone company reviews options for the region.

Orange would also buy assets for the right price, Chief Financial Officer Ramon Fernandez told a press event in London on Thursday. The region has more than 250 carriers.

The Paris-based company expects a 20% increase in its revenue from Africa and the Middle East by the end of 2018, Marc Rennard, its regional head, said at the same event.

Orange has networks from Belgium to Botswana and is present in 19 countries in Africa, making up 11% of total group revenue, it said. The carrier plans to invest 15 billion euros ($16.6 billion) in networks globally between 2015 and 2018, Fernandez said.

Now that Africa and Middle East have been separated as a holding company, Orange has more flexibility to seek deals or partnerships, Rennard said.

The unit is open to talks with investors as well as telecommunications peers about working together in the region, Fernandez said. “We are not looking at Africa as a place to be less present in. Africa is part of our core business.”

The until will most probably seek to expand into countries near its existing operations, preferably Francophone locales, Fernandez said.

Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard announced a five- year plan in March to rekindle earnings growth with cost cuts and faster networks after years of domestic price wars.

Orange shares have climbed about 24% in the past 12 months. They closed at 14.16 euros in Paris trading on Thursday, valuing the carrier at 37.5 billion euros.

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