3 looks to profitability in 2008, at long last

Having said to have racked up losses of US$16 billion since it started its 3G operations in 2002, Hutchison Whampoa has reported that its 3 cellphone business has for the first time recorded positive core earnings.

Hutchison reported that the 3 Group, including 3G mobile operations in Italy, the U.K., Ireland, Australia, Austria, Sweden and Denmark, saw 2007 losses narrow before interest and tax to HK$17.94bn (€1.46 billion) from HK$20 billion a year earlier.

However, the group wrote HK$4.6 billion off the cost of acquiring customers from which it no longer expects a return. The U.K. and Italian businesses also made a HK$3.28 billion provision related to regulatory disputes.

"Barring any unfavourable regulatory or market developments, 3 Group will turn a new page in 2008," said Li Ka-shing, Hutchison chairman; he added that Hutchison's Italian 3G arm, 3 Italia, frequently receives expressions of interest from potential buyers--and, while not identifying which companies, noted it would consider selling the unit if the price was right.

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