Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Vodafone Shed Assets

By Gary Kim November 08, 2013

As part of a new strategy that will build on an upgrade of its Italian network, Telecom Italia is selling its business is Agentina and its wireless towers in Italy and Brazil. It is also issuing a convertible bond to raise a total of about 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) to help repay debt.

Earlier in 2013, Telecom Italia had been considering a spinoff of its fixed network assets. A separation of Telecom Italia SpA’s terrestrial network, valued at about 14 billion euros ($19 billion), also would have allowed the firm to cut debt, and would have repositioned the company as a mobile service provider.

Instead, Telecom Italia has received a binding offer for its 22.7 percent holding in Telecom Argentina SA, and its board voted yesterday in favor of the disposal. The company is selling its controlling stake in Telecom Argentina to investment fund Fintech.

It is also planning to reap around two billion euros through the sale and lease-back of more than 17,000 towers in Italy and Brazil as well as through the disposal of Telecom Italia's digital broadcasting business.

The plan, however, does not envisage the sale of Telecom Italia's main Latin American asset, a majority stake in Brazilian mobile phone operator TIM Participacoes.

Telecom Italia’s asset disposals are part of a new wave of deleveraging and asset divestitures that perhaps is not yet as substantial as the similar wave of 2001 to 2002 but is certainly the first wave of retrenchment in this decade.

Vodafone so far has made the biggest disposal, selling its stake in Verizon Wireless to Verizon Communications.

Telefonica, meanwhile, has sold its Czech business for 2.47 billion euros ($3.3 billion), to focus on its Italian and Brazilian interests. Telefonica also sold smaller stakes in four Central American service providers in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama into a new group, which it will continue to control.

Also, Portugal Telecom is merging with its former Brazilian subsidiary Oi and will relocate its corporate headquarters to Brazil.

Some would argue such asset disposals and deleveraging should have occurred earlier, in 2011 and 2012, but European mobile service providers had to account for Long Term Evolution spectrum purchases in the interim.

Europe's telecom operators thus must be more careful about managing debt burdens even though that will curb their ability to spend on acquisitions, France Telecom’s CFO has said.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

Contributing Editor

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