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Private equity firm EQT has KPN in its sights – report

Yet another telco has attracted interest from a private investor. This time around, buyout firm EQT is reportedly eyeing up Netherlands incumbent KPN.

That’s what unnamed sources cited by Bloomberg reckon, anyway. They claim that Sweden-based EQT is in the early stages of discussing with advisors a potential bid for the telco. They included the usual caveats that no final decisions have been made and there’s no certainty a formal offer will emerge.

That means it’s up to us to weigh up whether this is a serious consideration on EQT’s part, or just someone using a media contact to try and kick KPN’s share price into life. This morning its stock jumped nearly 10 percent from Friday’s close of €2.24 to €2.45, valuing the company at €10.3 billion. It still remains down on last year, when shares were changing hands for nearly €3.00.

EQT has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies, many of which are decidedly telco-flavoured.

Its portfolio highlights include fibre altnets Deutsche Glasfaser in Germany, DeltaFiber in the Netherlands, and Spain’s Adamo. It’s also an investor in Maltese telco Melita; and US carriers Segra and Zayo. Telecoms, media and technology (TMT) represents 22.6 percent of EQT’s portfolio, making it the investor’s biggest single sector. So it knows the market well, lending a large dollop of credibility to the rumours.

However, should EQT decide to go ahead and launch a takeover bid, it could face political opposition. The Netherlands earlier this year adopted legislation giving the government the power to block foreign companies from telco takeovers on national security grounds. It has been a bone of intention in the country ever since 2013, when last-ditch efforts were made by a KPN shareholder group to prevent America Movil from taking full control of the incumbent.

The Mexico-based telco group built up a stake of around 30 percent in KPN, and made a move for the remaining 70 percent. It subsequently withdrew the offer for what it claimed were financial reasons, but there was no escaping the widespread political opposition to its bid. Since then, America Movil has pared down its stake to around 16 percent.

That kind of reticence towards foreign investment might dissuade EQT from trying to acquire too large a stake in KPN; however, it might be satisfied with merely buying America Movil out instead – who knows?

It would not be shocking if EQT’s rumoured interest in KPN proved to be true of course, given that a number of telcos have attracted private equity interest lately.

Just last week, TalkTalk’s second-largest shareholder, hedge fund Toscafund, made a £0.97 per share bid to take the UK telco private; Altice Europe is currently subject to a €4.11 per share offer from founder Patrick Drahi; and Spain’s Masmovil is also in the midst of being taken private by Providen, Cinven and KKR.

As we mentioned last week, these investors clearly see the long-term value in 5G and fibre. Adding extra impetus is the fact that ultrafast broadband coverage has in many markets become a manifesto pledge from ambitious politicians. Whether that might soften any opposition to a potential bid for KPN is anyone’s guess though.

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