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Telecom Italia picking funds for fiber network deal as debt falls

By Elvira Pollina
FILE PHOTO: Telecom Italia's logo for the TIM brand is seen on building roof downtown Milan

By Elvira Pollina

MILAN (Reuters) - Telecom Italia (TIM) <TLIT.MI> said on Thursday it has made progress in cutting its debt burden as it presses ahead with plans to find an investment partner to help it fund a potential tie-up with smaller rival Open Fiber.

In a statement on nine-month results the former phone monopolist said it had cut its debt by almost one billion euros from end-2018 to 24.3 billion euros, meeting its full-year target three months ahead of time.

The company confirmed its three-year guidance and said its organic earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) after leases fell 4.3% to 1.9 billion euros in the three months ending September, broadly in line with company-provided consensus.

Revenues in the third quarter fell by 6.1% to 4.429 billion euros, below expectations for 4.518 billion euros, as stiffer competition in its domestic market continued to take its toll.


DEBT PILE

Cutting the mountain of debt is one of the main objectives Chief Executive Luigi Gubitosi set for the group in his recent three-year business plan.

An easing of tensions between the group's top investors, French conglomerate Vivendi <VIV.PA> and U.S. activist fund Elliott, which took control of the board last year, could help Gubitosi deliver on promises.

Since taking over at TIM, the veteran manager has been looking for ways to engineer a deal with Open Fiber to create a national broadband champion.

In its results statement, TIM said it was in the process of picking one or more infrastructure funds to help its plans with Open Fiber, confirming what sources had previously told Reuters.

Also on Thursday, TIM agreed a partnership with Spanish lender Banco Santander <SAN.MC> to set up a consumer credit joint venture, aimed at reducing credit risk and boosting cash flow.

TIM also said it was setting up a new vehicle to hold its data centre assets. A source recently said TIM was considering a possible spin-off and listing of its data centre business.


For a graphic on Ebitda compared to peers:

https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/TIM-DEBT/0H001QXFQ957/eikon.png


(Reporting by Elvira Pollina, editing by Stephen Jewkes and Rosalba O'Brien)