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Eircom readying approach for its third stock market listing in 15 years


Herb Hribar

Herb Hribar

Shane O'Neill Fennell Photograph

Herb Hribar

Eircom has moved closer to a return to the stock market for the third time in 15 years after filing a prospectus with the Central Bank.

The company may seek to raise as much as €1bn from new investors in an initial public offer (IPO), according to sources close to the situation.

Eircom has already declared its intention to either list shares - almost certainly in Dublin and London - and to explore a possible sale of the business.

Advisers to the company had approached private-equity firms including Apax Partners, CVC Capital Partners and KKR, but without flushing out a takeover offer.

A high valuation placed on the company and a lack of growth prospects have been cited as reasons bids have been slow in coming, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Stock market listings of private equity-backed companies are a major corporate trend however, and Eircom fits that profile.

The company came out of examinership just two years ago after the Commercial Court presided over a deal that wrote off 40pc of its more than €4bn of debt and handed the business to a group of close to 200 lenders led by Blackstone Group.

The shareholders may dilute their stake in the business in an IPO, but the remaining senior lenders are in line to be repaid from the proceeds of a flotation.

Eircom's massive €4bn of pre-examinership debt was accumulated during a series of ownership changes - dubbed a "game of corporate pass the parcel."

The debt figure has dropped to €2.4bn by the end of June 30, and Eircom, now led by chief executive Herb Hribar, plans to use the proceeds of a share sale to further trim its liabilities and free up cash for dividends.

The prospectus is a real sign the flotation is moving ahead.

Advisers have started gauging investor interest for the sale, with a decision expected in a few weeks, sources said. Representatives for Eircom, CVC, KKR, Apax and Ireland's central bank declined to comment.

The former semi-state company was first listed on the public market at its privatisation in 1999.

Two years later it was taken over by a group led by businessman Anthony O'Reilly.

They returned Eircom to the stock market in 2004, before it was acquired in 2006 in another leveraged buyout.

Today, Eircom lists private equity giant Blackstone's various credit units as its largest shareholder, with a 24.4pc stake.

It is followed by Anchorage Capital Group, with 8pc, and Credit Suisse with 6.3pc, according to a bondholder filing dated August 28.

The current senior lenders are Eircom's seventh set of owners and have been in situ since the 2012 examinership.

The company hired investment banks Rothschild, Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley earlier this year to advise on options for the business.

In August the company said it had made a loss of €333m in the 12 months to the end of June, weighed down by costs relating to its restructuring programme.

A €235m exceptional charge during the year was mainly to cover the cost of redundancies and to bolster a defined benefit pension scheme.

Irish Independent