MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's Telefonica (>> Telefonica SA) pointed to rising demand for its mobile, broadband and pay-TV deals as evidence of a turnaround from its three-year slump as it posted falling revenue and profit in the first nine months of the year.
The trend echoed that at British and Dutch rivals Vodafone (>> Vodafone Group plc) and KPN (>> KONINKLIJKE KPN), which have started to benefit from investments in faster networks, though Telefonica's trading improvement may need a few more months to bolster the bottom line.
Telefonica, which has lost more than a third of its revenue and core profit in Spain as cash-strapped consumers reduce telecoms spending, is betting on the take-up of bundled packages combining mobile and fixed-line phones, high-speed Internet and TV and on its heavy investment in fibre-optic networks.
The strategy comes at a price, however. Margins in Spain, which contributes 42 percent of revenue and 30 percent of operating income, have continued to fall, slipping 2.7 basis points to 45.9 percent in the nine months to Sept. 30.
Europe's biggest telecoms group by revenue reported net profit down 9.4 percent in the period to 2.85 billion euros (2.25 billion pounds), just above analysts' forecasts. Operating income dropped 12.6 percent to 12.33 billion euros and revenue shrank 10.9 percent to 37.98 billion euros.
Revenue and operating income were hit by weaker Latin American currencies, but the effect eased between July and September and the region's underlying performance remained strong.
In Brazil, where Telefonica bought broadband provider GVT in September and is now considering bidding for assets of TIM Participacoes (>> TIM Participacoes SA), the currency effect was positive on the quarter, boding well for the rest of the year.
Net debt, a weak spot in the past, was 41.2 billion euros at the Sept. 30, already beating a year-end target of 43 billion euros. However, the figure was 44.9 billion euros when taking into account corporate moves not yet reflected in earnings.
In a conference call with analysts, finance chief Angel Vila said the company could soon issue more hybrid debt or sell assets to meet the target.
Shares in the company were little changed at 12.19 euros by 1444 GMT but were outperforming a 1.6 percent fall in Spain's blue-chip Ibex index <.IBEX>.
(Editing by Louise Heavens and David Goodman)
By Julien Toyer and Andrés González