November 22, 2021
By Valentina Za and Elvira Pollina
MILAN (Reuters) -Shares in Telecom Italia (TIM) rose as much as 30% on Monday, after U.S. fund KKR presented a non-binding proposal to buy Italy’s former phone monopoly valuing it at 10.8 billion euros ($12 billion).
The size of the move triggered the suspension of trading of shares in Italy’s biggest phone group, which has a major role in efforts to expand broadband connectivity across the nation.
KKR’s offer, which is conditional on the government’s backing and the outcome of a four-week due diligence analysis, gives Telecom Italia (TIM), with its net debt of 22.5 billion euros, an enterprise value of 33 billion euros.
TIM said on Sunday KKR had termed as “friendly” its offer of 50.5 euro cents per TIM share, a 45.7% premium to the closing price of the group’s ordinary stock on Friday.
The price, which TIM said was “indicative”, would expose the company’s top investor Vivendi to a steep loss on its 24% stake, for which it spent on average 1.07 euros per share.
A person close to the French media group told Reuters Vivendi believed KKR’s offer did not adequately value TIM.
TIM’s board did not give a view on the proposal.
KKR’s offer comes amid turmoil at TIM, which has issued two profit warnings in three months, prompting Vivendi to push to replace Chief Executive Luigi Gubitosi.
Having failed to stem TIM’s revenue decline, Gubitosi has looked at options to squeeze money from the group’s assets, including the most prized one – the fixed line network, which the government deems strategic.
Italy’s Treasury said on Sunday the decision on whether to use special government powers to block unwanted foreign interest on strategic companies would hinge on plans for the network.
Rome is preparing to deploy billions of euros of European Union recovery funds to support ultra-fast broadband rollout across Italy, which ranks low for digital connectivity in the EU.
The government wants to make sure that any plans for TIM’s network are in line with Italy’s broadband goals, providing the necessary investments and protecting jobs.
TIM’s 42,500 staff in Italy have been a concern for the government, together with the group’s junk-rated debt pile which has hampered investments needed to upgrade the network.
KKR wants to take TIM private, which analysts say would make a restructuring easier.
The New York-based private equity firm would carve out TIM’s assets, including the fixed line which would be run as a government-regulated asset along the model of power grid Terna or gas grid Snam, sources have said.
KKR is already an investor in TIM’s network following an 1.8 billion euro deal struck with Gubitosi last year to acquire a 37.5% stake in FiberCop, the unit holding TIM’s so-called “last mile” network running from the street to people’s homes.
“The path towards a formal offer may not be certain, nor fast – but we think the offer is articulate and credible and should trigger reactions from the relevant stakeholders and counterparts,” HSBC said in a research note, upgrading the stock to ‘buy’.
Rival private equity firms CVC and Advent, which also had been studying plans for TIM advised by its former CEO Marco Patuano, on Sunday said they remained open to working on a solution to strengthen TIM.
($1 = 0.8872 euros)
(Reporting by Valentina Za and Elvira Pollina; editing by Agnieszka Flak)