Telefonica selling call centre to reduce debt


SPAIN’S TELEFONICA is selling its Atento call centre business to US private equity firm Bain Capital for about €1 billion, including debt, as it battles to reduce its borrowings.

The telecoms group is trying to reduce a €57 billion debt pile and preserve a coveted investment grade credit rating at a time when its crisis-hit home country faces pressure to seek an international bailout.

It has been looking for a buyer for Atento, which has over 152,000 staff, since last year when it shelved a stock market listing of the unit after failing to fetch enough interest.

Bain, co-founded by US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, agreed a deal on Friday – its first in Spain – for an enterprise value of just over €1 billion, which includes Atento’s net debt of around €175 million.

“The enterprise value is close to Telefonica’s initial ambition for Atento and is 30 per cent better than the prices that had been rumoured in the press recently,” said Juan Rodriguez, an analyst at Banco Sabadell.

However, the transaction includes €110 million in financing from Telefonica, meaning the telecoms group will be raising far less than €1 billion from the sale.

Other loans from Spanish, Mexican and Brazilian banks backed Bain’s acquisition, a source close to the situation said.

The headline value also incorporates a €110-million deferred payment by Bain, Telefonica said.

The deal includes a nine-year agreement for the call centre to continue providing services to Telefonica. More than 50 per cent of Atento’s business is with Telefonica, and another 9 per cent comes from Spain’s second largest bank BBVA.

Bain, which has owned Japan’s biggest call centre operator Bellsystems24 since 2009 and recently invested in Genpact, the world’s largest business processing outsourcer, is interested in Atento’s strong presence in Latin America, and will look to expand its client base.

The sale will help Telefonica to raise the €7 billion to €8 billion a year through to 2015 that it needs to cope with debt repayments.

The company is also preparing to spin off its German O2 arm and has said it is considering listings in Latin America. – (Reuters)