By Victoria Klesty
OSLO (Reuters) - Norway's Telenor posted higher-than-expected fourth-quarter operating profits on Wednesday and said it expects its underlying earnings to rise in 2020 after last year's decline.
The company's October-December profit before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (adjusted EBITDA) rose 17% year-on-year to 11.88 billion Norwegian crowns ($1.33 billion), while analysts on average had expected profits of 11.68 billion.
"Entering 2020, we will continue to focus on growth, efficiency and simplification," Telenor said in a statement.
The company's fourth-quarter revenue also exceeded expectations, brokers DNB Markets wrote in a note to clients.
"We expect the shares to open higher," said DNB, which holds a buy recommendation on the stock.
Organic revenue, which excludes effects of mergers and acquisitions, is expected to grow by up to 2% in 2020 from a 0.4% increase in 2019, Telenor said, while organic EBITDA will swing to growth of 2%-4% from a decline of 2.2% last year.
Norway's second-largest company, which has 186 million customers in nine countries across Europe and Asia, raised its full-year dividend to 8.7 crowns per share from 8.4 crowns, slightly below analysts' average forecast for 8.8 crowns.
After years of testing, the company late last year said it would introduce commercial 5G telecoms services in Norway in 2020, which analysts say will lead to higher capital expenditure (capex).
Telenor said capex in 2020 would be around 15% of sales. That would amount to around 18.5 billion crowns, according to a Reuters calculation based on analysts' revenue forecasts, up from 16.6 billion in 2019.
The company's fastest-growing unit in the fourth quarter was its Myanmar operation, which posted organic growth of 14.9% year-on-year.
Telenor's ambitions in Asia hit a bump in September, however, when a deal with Malaysia's Axiata Group to create a joint telecoms venture collapsed, with the two citing "complexities" in the project.
Telenor's shares have rise 1.4% in the last 12 months, outperfoming a 2.2% drop in European telecom stocks.
($1 = 8.9769 Norwegian crowns)
(Writing by Terje Solsvik, editing by Kirsten Donovan and Mark Potter)