Orange strikes €3.4 billion deal to buy Spain’s Jazztel

Consolidation in Spanish telecoms sector has been brewing, driven by competition and falling prices

Orange said the deal would add to earnings per share and operating free cash flow by 2017, and would help it save €1.3 billion mostly through network efficiencies

Orange said the deal would add to earnings per share and operating free cash flow by 2017, and would help it save €1.3 billion mostly through network efficiencies

 

France’s Orange has reached a deal to buy Spanish fixed line telecoms operator Jazztel in an effort to bolster its mobile operation in the country and better compete with rivals Telefonica and Vodafone.

The French group made an offer for 100 per cent of Jazztel shares at €13 per share in cash, which values Jazztel at €3.4 billion. The acquisition will be financed through a combination of hybrid bonds and a capital increase of up to €2 billion at Orange.

The agreement is subject to regulatory approval and to winning the backing of at least 50.01 per cent of shareholders on top of the 14.5 pe rcent of the shares that Jazztel chairman Leopoldo Fernandez Pujals has already agreed to sell.

Jazztel shares rose 6 per cent to €12.75. Orange fell 1.2 per cent because of the share issue plan.

“We are doing this deal to accelerate our growth in Spain, particularly in fixed-mobile convergent offers,” Orange chief executive Stephane Richard said.

“The new company will be the incontestable number two in fixed services and third in mobile behind Vodafone, but we think we’ll be able to take second place pretty quickly.”

Consolidation in the Spanish telecoms sector has been brewing for months, driven by tough competition and falling prices in a deep recession.

When number two mobile operator Vodafone Group agreed to buy cable operator Ono in March for €7.2 billion, Orange found itself isolated without a fixed-line network. Leader Telefonica has increasingly pushed discounted bundles of fixed and mobile services to keep customers loyal.

Buying Jazztel would give Orange about 1.5 million broadband subscribers and help it match competitors’ fixed, TV and wireless packages. It plans to keep both brands since Jazztel’s image is stronger among budget-conscious customers.

Orange said the deal would add to earnings per share and operating free cash flow by 2017, and would help it save €1.3 billion mostly through network efficiencies. Jazztel now rents capacity on Orange’s network to provide mobile service.

Some analysts questioned the price. Orange valued Jazztel at 8.6 times 2015 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (ebitda) after cost savings, or a 34 per cent premium to Jazztel’s average share price in the past month.

The offer also means Jazztel will not be pushing ahead with the potential acquisition of TeliaSonera AB’s Yoigo, Spain’s smallest mobile player. Last week, Jazztel said it was in preliminary talks with Yoigo.

Orange had also been weighing a bid for Yoigo, which parent Teliasonera wants to sell because it is subscale. But a move for Yoigo was no longer in the cards, Orange’s Richard said.

“Today we don’t need to acquire Yoigo and we will focus on the combination of Orange and Jazztel,” Mr Richard said on a call with analysts. “But we support consolidation in general and if we can play a role later on, then we will consider it.

By paying for Jazztel in part through a capital increase, Orange stuck to its target for net debt of no more than 2 times operating profit by year end. If it carried out the maximum €2 billion rights issue, it would represent a 6.7 per cent dilution for shareholders.

Orange acknowledged it was being conservative by opting for a capital increase instead of debt. Moody’s and Fitch credit rating agencies put Orange on negative outlook in January over concerns about falling profitability in its key French market.

Orange expects the deal to close in the first half of 2015. Richard said competition regulators would subject the deal only through a shorter “phase one” review, which apply only to those with lesser impacts on the market.

Reuters