Cellcom Israel Q4 loss widens, sees hit from coronavirus

TEL AVIV, March 23 (Reuters) - Cellcom, Israel’s largest mobile phone operator, reported a wider quarterly net loss, weighed down by an expense for a voluntary retirement plan, and warned the coronavirus outbreak would harm future earnings.

Cellcom said on Monday it lost 54 million shekels ($15 million) in the fourth quarter, versus a 35 million shekel loss a year earlier. It recorded an expense of 45 million shekels for the retirement plan of 450 workers and said it expected to gradually see cost savings from the second quarter.

Revenue rose 1.5% to 932 million shekels, with service revenue up 2.5%.

“As this crisis continues, it is expected to adversely affect the company’s results of operations, particularly the revenues of the company’s roaming services abroad and the roaming services of tourists in Israel,” Chief Financial Officer Shlomi Fruhling said in a statement.

He said in the first quarter Cellcom will likely record losses on its managed investment portfolio due to sharp declines in capital markets in Israel and worldwide but that it is acting to mitigate this by reducing expenses and investments.

“At this stage it is difficult to anticipate the duration of the crisis and therefore the scope of the adverse effect to the company’s results of operations,” Fruhling said.

Cellcom, which is in the process of trying to buy smaller rival Golan, said its subscriber base dipped 3.8% in 2019 to 2.744 million but the number of customers to its TV service rose 17.8% to 258,000.

The company opted not to pay a dividend this quarter. ($1 = 3.6816 shekels) (Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Tova Cohen)