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Maxis net profit beats fcasts, to pay record div

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 22 (Reuters) Malaysian mobile phone firm Maxis on Wednesday reported quarterly profit that beat forecasts and declared a record dividend as it vowed to maintain market share with saturation approaching within three years.

Maxis Communications Bhd, Malaysia's biggest mobile phone firm by subscribers, is embroiled in a price war at home to capture some of the roughly 30 per cent of Malaysians still without a mobile phone, and has been expanding abroad vigorously.

It has focused on India and Indonesia, hoping to generate new revenue streams where mobile phone penetration is still low.

Chief Executive Jamaludin Ibrahim estimated there were an additional 5 million users among Malaysia's population of 26 million to capture over the next three years, which would take the country to mobile phone saturation point.

Maxis hopes to capture 41 per cent of those new users, equivalent to its current market share, Jamaludin told reporters.

''There'll be good growth for the next two or three years,'' he said. ''Maxis will grow in the low (percentage) teens.'' Maxis said it planned to pay a total of 1.05 billion ringgit (2.3 million) in dividends for the year, its highest ever, for a gross yield of 6.9 per cent based on a share price of 6.50 ringgit.

It said it expected to match that payout in 2006, but declined to elaborate on yields.

Maxis reported net profit of 435 million ringgit for the three months ended Dec. 31, compared with 377 million ringgit a year earlier. Earnings per share amounted to 17.4 sen, compared with 15.2 sen.

Maxis had been expected to report a profit of about 410 million ringgit for the quarter.

SUBSCRIBERS SWELLED Maxis said subscribers swelled to 7.86 million at the end of December from 6.0 million a year earlier, in a period during which it said saw its highest net subscriber additions of 848,000 users.

It had 7.0 million mobile phone subscribers at the end of September, it reported earlier.

For the year, Maxis earned 1.67 billion ringgit, in line with analysts' expectations of Reuters' consensus estimates of about 1.65 billion ringgit, or 66.75 sen a share.

Maxis, which had already earned 1.24 billion ringgit in the first nine months of the year, is controlled by billionaire Ananda T.

Krishnan, who also has publicly traded interests in pay-television, gaming, power and satellite transmission.

Maxis' smaller rival DiGi.Com Bhd earlier reported a 65 per cent leap in fourth-quarter profit, blowing past analysts' estimates, buoyed by growth of 48 per cent in its customer base to 4.8 million by end-December.

Telekom Malaysia Bhd, the dominant phone company, is expected to post its results on Feb. 28, its spokeswoman said.

In November, Maxis had said third-quarter profit fell 7.2 per cent to 402 million ringgit after competition hurt margins.

Maxis announced plans in December to expand into the fast-growing Indian market, taking the lead in a .08-billion joint-venture takeover of mobile operator Aircel, which has around 2.2 million users and a third of the market in Tamil Nadu and its capital, Chennai.

REUTERS SD PM1831

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