Reports of a private equity firm wanting to buy a European incumbent can often be dismissed as far-fetched unless, as in the case of EQT’s alleged interest in KPN, those reports persist.
Bloomberg has followed up a report in October that named EQT as a potential buyer of KPN with another one. This time sources claim the buyout firm has held early talks with the Dutch incumbent in a bid to reach a friendly deal. EQT is said to be working with advisers and discussing financing for what would be its largest ever takeover. Almost exactly one month earlier, rumour had it that EQT was at the stage of discussing with advisers a potential bid for the telco.
The stock market welcomed the latest rumour, pushing KPN’s shares up 6.5 percent on Wednesday’s closing price to €2.64 on Thursday. That values KPN at €11.1 billion. The last time this rumour hit the headlines, KPN’s shares jumped to €2.45, valuing it at €10.3 billion. Whatever the final outcome of this speculation, some investors have made a tidy profit.
Anyway, as we’ve previously reported, telecoms media and technology (TMT) comprises the largest single sector in EQT’s portfolio, nearly 23 percent, in fact. Dutch fibre provider DeltaFiber, and Spanish altnet Adamo are in there, as is Maltese operator Melita, and US carriers Segra and Zayo.
In February this year, EQT teamed up with Canadian pension fund OMERS to acquire German altnet Deutsche Glasfaser. EQT took a 51 percent stake, while OMERS bought the remaining 49 percent. Sources at the time said the deal valued Glasfaser at €2.5 billion.
Altnets are all well and good, but incumbents – particularly European ones – come with a lot of political baggage, which may ultimately prevent EQT from doing a deal.
America Movil came close to a full takeover of KPN in 2013. The Mexican telco group built a 30 percent position in KPN and made a move for the remaining 70 percent. America Movil’s bid would have succeeded but for the dogged opposition of a KPN shareholder group. America Movil has since reduced its holding to around 16 percent.
Since then, the Netherlands government has introduced a law that allows it to block telecoms takeovers on national security grounds – another potential stumbling block for Sweden-based EQT.
However, according to one source cited in a separate report by Reuters this week, EQT has a plan ‘B’. This would allegedly involve buying certain fibre assets from KPN and merging them with its DeltaFiber unit.
Whether KPN would actually countenance any kind of deal – particularly one that would relieve it of highly-coveted fibre assets – is questionable. CEO Joost Farwerck reportedly said on his company’s most recent investor call that KPN is open to suggestions, but has no plans to be bought out.
It looks like it will take something pretty special for EQT to get this deal over the line.