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Wind Mobile written down to $0 by owner Vimpelcom

Netherlands-based telecom firm Vimpelcom has written down its investment in Canadian telecom carrier Wind Mobile to zero at the same time it slashed the value of its investment in Ukraine.

In January, Wind Mobile withdrew from the 700MHz spectrum auction after failing to get backing from its parent company to buy more advanced spectrum.

Vimpelcom had failed to negotiate greater control over its Canadian joint venture with Wind partner Anthony Lacavera, hampered in part by Canada's limits on foreign ownership.

Lacavera said the writedown decision does not affect Wind’s operations.

“First and foremost it has no impact on our ongoing operations. It is an accounting decision that our investors made for their own reporting or their own disclosures. I’m not privy to exactly what the rationale was,” he told CBC News.

Vimpelcom acquired its position in Wind from Orascom in 2011 and since then has shopped around for buyers. There was a possibility to sell Wind Mobile to U.S.-based Verizon last year.

Lacavera said he himself has tried to buy out his partner.

“It is obvious they are not willing to sell their position in Canada for zero, otherwise I’d already own it,” he said.

Lacavera estimates Wind Mobile owns $450 million in spectrum and $500 million in equipment and subscriber base.

Vimpelcom, whose biggest investors are Russia's Alfa Group and Norway's Telenor, took a $2 billion US writedown on its investment in Ukraine, where it holds about 43 per cent market share with 26 million subscribers.

CEO Jo Lunder said the company had changed its expectations of future cashflow out of Ukraine, because of the risks arising from its current political situation. In addition to a tussle with the Russians over control of Crimea, Ukraine has numerous economic problems, including declining personal incomes.

Lunder said Vimpelcom takes a “long-term view” on Ukraine and plans to remain in the market.

It is also under pressure in Russia, where average revenue per user, subscriber base and revenue all fell.

The company took a total writedown of $2.9 billion and reported losses of $2.6 billion for the fourth quarter.

In Canada, Vimpelcom was forced to pull back from buying a bigger stake in Wind Mobile last June.

In its quarterly report on Thursday, it indicated it is “reassessing” continuing involvement in the Canadian market.

"The company fully impaired its assets in Canada, mainly relating to the challenges the company is facing in the country, which resulted in the strategic decision to withdraw from the 700 MHz spectrum auction and the reassessment of the prospects for continuing operations in the country,” Vimpelcom said in the report to shareholders.

The company wrote down the value of its Wind investment by $768 million. That comes after writing it down by $328 million last year.

Wind has 649,000 customers in Canada, Vimpelcom's earnings show.

Three large telecom companies – Bell, Telus and Rogers – dominate the wireless market in Canada and scooped up the bulk of new high-quality spectrum offered in February.

Lacavera still has ambitious plans for Wind in Canada despite the company’s small size.

He said recent government policy decisions have set up conditions where Wind can compete more effectively in markets such as Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, where it is already the fourth carrier.

"We are going to continue to gain market share. I look forward to the implementation of the roaming framework ...and that will be a significant game changer for us," he said.

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