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Telecom Argentina CEO Downplays Nationalization Fears

05/04/2012 | 12:33pm US/Eastern
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   By Ken Parks 
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Telecom Argentina SA's (TEO, TECO2.BA) chief executive said Friday that he doesn't expect the telecommunications firm will be nationalized like oil company YPF SA (YPF, YPFD.BA).

"We are quite happy to operate here. We haven't had any indication [from the government], and honestly don't expect any surprises in that respect," Chief Executive Franco Bertone said during a conference call with analysts.

On Thursday, Congress gave President Cristina Kirchner the greenlight to seize a 51% stake in YPF from Spain's Repsol YPF SA (REPYY, REP.MC) just three weeks after she submitted the expropriation bill.

Kirchner says the takeover is necessary because Repsol didn't invest enough in YPF to reverse years of declining oil and gas production that have turned Argentina into a net energy importer. Repsol has denied the charges and said it will fight the takeover in the courts.

Kirchner's swift nationalization of the country's largest corporation has fueled speculation that other former state-run companies that were privatized in the 1990s might soon return to government hands.

Telecom Argentina and rival Telefonica de Argentina, a subsidiary of Spain's Telefonica SA (TEF), were created when state-run phone giant Entel was broken up and privatized.

The government is already a major shareholder in more than two dozen local corporations after Kirchner nationalized the private pension system in 2008.

Pension agency Anses owns 25% of Telecom Argentina alone. The company's other direct and indirect shareholders include Telecom Italia SpA (TI, TIT.MI), Telefonica, and Argentina's Werthein family.

Telecom Argentina's shares traded in New York were recently down 0.6% at $13.92 Friday, giving the company a market capitalization of about $2.7 billion.

Asked if management would consider a share buyback program to address the stock's rock bottom valuation, Bertone said no plans are on the table.

"We agree with your view on that metric of the company," he added.

-By Ken Parks, Dow Jones Newswires; 54-11-4103-6740, ken.parks@dowjones.com

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