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By Terje Solsvik
OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's Telenor and Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Group (CP Group) are exploring a merger of their telecom units in Thailand that could form a new market leader in the Southeast Asian country.
A deal, if completed, would merge the telecom operations of Telenor's Total Access Communication (Dtac) and CP Group's True Corporation (True), Oslo-based Telenor said in a statement on Friday.
Dtac is currently valued at around $3 billion, according to Refinitiv Eikon data, while True has a value of $4.5 billion.
CP Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It would be the Norwegian firm's second tie-up in Southeast Asia this year, following a June deal with Axiata Group Bhd to merge mobile operations in Malaysia https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/axiata-telenor-sign-deal-merge-malaysian-telecoms-units-2021-06-21 in a $15 billion transaction, creating a new market leader there.
Mobile operators are facing pressure on profits in a challenging industry environment and mounting investment costs as new technologies such as 5G emerge.
"There are open issues outstanding and there is no certainty that the discussions will result in a final agreement. Telenor will not provide any further comments at this stage of the process," the Norwegian company said.
Telenor serves 172 million customers with roughly half its revenue generated in Asia and half in the Nordic region.
A deal, if approved by regulators, would give the combined entity a market share in Thailand of around 52%, surpassing current number one AIS which holds around 44% of the market, according to Mads Rosendal, a credit analyst at Danske Bank.
The transaction would be in line with Telenor's strategy of reducing risk and unlocking more value from its Asian business units, Rosendal wrote in a note to clients.
"The potential for higher pricing power and capex synergies from a True deal would be positive, also in light of recent weak results from DTAC, which still has not recovered to pre-pandemic operating metrics," he said.
Telenor's shares traded 1.1% higher at 0845 GMT.
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok and Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm, editing by Gwladys Fouche and Toby Chopra)