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Investors look to throw more cash at towers in Germany and Australia

telecoms radio towers

Deutsche Telekom has reportedly attracted more would-be investors for its €20 billion towers business, while antipodean rumours suggest OMERS is looking for more assets in Australia.

The big money is in Germany, so we’ll start there. KKR, Global Infrastructure Partners and Stonepeak Partners have made a joint, binding, bid for a controlling stake in Deutsche Telekom’s towers business, according to the latest from Bloomberg’s unnamed sources.

The report comes just weeks after the newswire named a consortium of Brookfield Asset Management and Cellnex Telecom as possible buyers for the unit, which may or may not be up for sale.

The German incumbent has been mulling its options for its 40,600 towers in Germany and Austria – according to its latest annual report – for some time. Some sort of monetisation move is clearly on the cards, but the company is adamant that it will not simply sell the business because everyone else is at it, nor to raise a quick buck. In early 2021 CEO Tim Hoettges said a towers partnership could be an option, as could an IPO, but he also talked about Deutsche Telekom’s mission to create value-enhancing businesses outside of its core operations. That suggested – at the time, at least – that the telco would look to retain a position in the towers space, one way or another.

There has been no indication since then that the operator has changes its tune, therefore it will be interesting to see what size of stake it looks to sell of, presuming the latest and previous Bloomberg reports prove correct.

The newswire’s sources say talks are ongoing, adding that other bidders could emerge. Vodafone’s Vantage Towers is named as one such potential bidder, either alone or with a partner. That could well be idle speculation, given that we have been talking about towers partnerships between any combination of Vodafone, Orange and Deutsche Telekom for the last year or so. But you never know. The firm has also identified investment group DigitalBridge and others as possible buyers.

Essentially, something is happening in the towers space in Germany and investors are flocking round it… but we’re not quite sure what it is yet.

Meanwhile, there is talk of another imminent towers deal in Australia, again with investors looking to grab a slice of those long-term, predictable returns.

This time it’s Canadian pension fund OMERS that’s making the news with a reported move for towers company Stilmark.

We don’t have a valuation for the deal, which was disclosed by the Australian Financial Review, but we’re probably not talking big bucks here; the paper notes that Stilmark has a portfolio of around 70 towers, although its management team and related expertise is likely of interest to OMERS too. The interesting thing about this deal is the way it fits into the ongoing Australian towers landgrab.

To backtrack a little, OMERS hooked up with Stilmark 18 months ago, the paper explains, to create a joint venture, dubbed Symphony, with the remit of furthering the pair’s towers ambitions; OMERS brought the finance and Stilmark the industry expertise. The companies were aware of plans to monetise towers assets by the country’s big telcos – Telstra, Optus and TPG Telecom – and they wanted in.

Telstra and Optus brought in billions of dollars from the sale of portions of their towers portfolios to, respectively, a consortium made up of Future Fund, Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation and Sunsuper, and superannuation fund AustralianSuper, last year.

Whether Symphony Consortium had a sniff of either deal we don’t know. But clearly OMERS was unhappy with the way the JV was working, and struck out alone earlier this year to pick up A$950 million worth of towers from TPG Telecom. And now, with that deal still yet to close, it seems to be looking to buy out its erstwhile partner too.

According to AFR, there are still a lot of details to be worked out between OMERS and Stilmark, and no certainty a deal will emerge. But whether or not we get ink on the dotted line in Australia, or indeed Germany, it’s pretty clear that towers are still where it’s at for the investment community.

 

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