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KKR extends bid for TIM's grid as government looks into offer

Published 02/21/2023, 05:57 PM
Updated 02/22/2023, 09:06 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Tim logo is seen at its headquarters in Rome, Italy November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo
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By Elvira Pollina and Giuseppe Fonte

MILAN/ROME (Reuters) - KKR has extended an offer for Telecom Italia (BIT:TLIT)'s (TIM) prized landline grid by four weeks to March 24 at the behest of the Italian government, which is considering a potential deal with the U.S. fund.

The extension comes after plans by Italian state lender CDP, which is TIM's second largest investor, to promote a counter bid for the same asset together with Australian fund Macquarie stalled in the absence of government backing.

In its non-binding bid, KKR left the door open to having a government-backed entity take a stake of up to 30% in the grid and for it to exercise some vetting powers on strategic issues, sources have said.

Leading officials from the Treasury and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's office are open to exploring a deal that would involve KKR while giving Rome strategic control of the infrastructure, government sources have told Reuters.

TIM said late on Tuesday that the government asked KKR to extend the deadline to give it more time to analyse the potential deal, in particular its sway over a sector deemed strategic for the country.

Rome has 'golden powers' it can use to fend off unwanted interest for assets of national importance.

Meloni's administration wants to secure public control of TIM's grid, but there is no common ground within the government on how to achieve this.

KKR, which has already invested 1.8 billion euros ($1.9 billion)on TIM's grid, has now bid for a controlling stake in a unit comprising the entire TIM's domestic fixed access network and submarine cable business Sparkle.

VALUATION ISSUE

KKR's approach values the unit at some 20 billion euros, including debt plus a 2 billion euro earn out mechanism, sources have said.

Valuation could be a challenge as TIM's top investor Vivendi (OTC:VIVHY), whose support is needed for any deal to go through, has set a price tag of 31 billion euro to back a sale of TIM's most valuable asset.

Ceding control of TIM's grid is a main plank of TIM Chief Executive Pietro Labriola's efforts to cut the former phone monopoly's 25 billion euro net debt and revamp its struggling domestic business.

"We see no other way out than a deal on the fixed network eventually, as we believe the group's debt is not sustainable in the current configuration", said Thomas Coudry, head of tech Equity Research at Bryan Garnier.

TIM's confirmed its board would meet on Friday to discuss KKR's offer and "take appropriate decisions". Sources familiar with the matter said directors were expected to take time to request further clarification.

Shares in TIM gained 1.8% by 1345 GMT.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Tim logo is seen at its headquarters in Rome, Italy November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Nardi/File Photo

CDP's potential offer has been hampered in part by regulatory concerns given it is the main investor in TIM's fibre-optic rival Open Fiber, people familiar with the matter said.

($1 = 0.9399 euros)

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