Orange's French business picks up despite virus outbreak

·1 min read
FILE PHOTO: Logo of French telecoms operator Orange
FILE PHOTO: Logo of French telecoms operator Orange

PARIS (Reuters) - A turnaround in France helped Orange post growing first quarter revenues, though store closures in Europe during the coronavirus outbreak dented equipment sales and hindered efforts to roll out new fibre optic broadband connections.

France's biggest telecoms operator, which has already cut its dividend payout by 30%, has so far said it is unlikely to deviate from its 2020 financial goals. It added it would assess these after the second quarter, when the impact of the crisis becomes clearer.

People under lockdown at home as governments enforce measures to fight the virus have relied on internet connections to work or school their children.

This might encourage some to turn to speedy fibre optic connections, and could lead to a pick up in these subscriptions, especially once shutdowns ease, Orange's Financial Chief Ramon Fernandez said. But he added that rolling out such connections had been tougher under lockdown, and Orange would fall behind on its fibre optic deployment goals this year.

"The telecoms sector has emerged as one of the most resilient in this exceptional context ... even though it will be impossible to remain immune," Fernandez told reporters, adding economies would be in for a violent shock.

Orange is due to start reopening some stores in France from May 11, when confinement measures ease, and in markets such as Spain.

Orange's revenues rose 2.1% to 10.4 billion euros ($11.29 billion) in the January-March period, rising 1% on a comparable basis that strips out elements such as currency swings.

Momentum in France, the Middle East and Africa offset a worsening performance in Spain, where the group has been squeezed by competition from low-cost rivals.

(Reporting by Sarah White; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Giles Elgood)