BT buys New Zealand company

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THE FORTUNES of the UK's two biggest telecoms players could become joined in New Zealand as a result of British Telecom's acquisition yesterday of Clear Communications, the country's second largest fixed line telecoms company.

BT said the purchase cost "tens of millions of pounds" but would not give an exact figure. BT had planned to double its 25 per cent interest by acquiring a stake held by MCI Communications, a deal agreed after the companies' proposed merger fell through. But the state-owned broadcaster TVNZ and Todd Corp, a private investment group, recently decided to pull out of the telecoms sector.

Though Clear recorded pretax profit of pounds 17m on sales of pounds 94m, and has book value of pounds 40m, it is a relative minnow to the incumbent network operator Telecom New Zealand.

Clear provides long distance, Internet and business telecoms services within New Zealand, but not mobile. Vodafone, however, operates a 100 per cent owned subsidary there. The UK companies are already involved in a joint venture in Japan.

Clear has 19 per cent of New Zealand's long distance traffic and is looking to rising Internet use to drive future business expansion.

BT shares closed down 9p at 1058p.