By Manuela Mesco
MILAN--Telecom Italia SpA (TIT.MI) shares fell more than 4% Thursday amid investor concerns that a regulatory request from Brazil to increase investment in the country's communications network could put the indebted Italian telecommunications operator's financial situation under further strain.
Telecom Italia's shares dropped to EUR0.71 in Milan at 1041 GMT, after news that its Brazilian unit, TIM Participacoes SA (TSU), is among three mobile phone operators to be suspended from selling new subscriptions by Brazil's telecommunications regulator Anatel for a month.
The suspension is in response to customer complaints about failures in the network.
Anatel has banned TIM Participacoes from selling in 19 states, but it can still sell in the state of Sao Paulo, the most populous one.
It also has requested a new investment plan within 30 days to improve the network.
The other companies involved are America Movil SA's (AMX) unit Claro and Oi SA (OIBR).
TIM said in a statement it had already invested 3 billion Brazilian reais ($1.5 billion) a year in the last four years in Brazil, adding that it was "surprised by the extreme measure adopted by Anatel."
"Today, the sole element that keeps a client with TIM is their satisfaction," it said. "Such a disproportional measure by Anatel will certainly affect competition in the country's telecommunications sector to the benefit of some competitors."
In a research note, Milan brokerage Mediobanca said Anatel's decision will generate a higher capex spending in the medium term, thus reducing the cash flow.
Another equities analyst in Milan said the suspension wouldn't have an impact on TIM's revenue as it is only related to new customers and only lasts a month.
The analyst estimated that Telecom Italia's capital expenditures were already 13% higher than previously forecast by the company, but said the planned sale of its Telecom Italia Media SpA (TME.MI) broadcasting unit could help offset the extra investments required in Brazil.
Ratings agency Moody's recently spared Telecom Italia from a list of Italian companies it downgraded after it lowered its rating for Italy's sovereign debt last week. But it said it was "still concerned about the company's ability to improve its financial ratios."
"Negative pressure on the rating could arise if Telecom Italia were to deviate from its debt reduction plan, which includes reducing its reported net debt to approximately 27.5 billion euros ($33.7 billion) by the end of 2012 and approximately EUR25 billion in 2013," it said.
Write to Manuela Mesco at firstname.lastname@example.org
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