Business Irish

Thursday 19 September 2019

Eir's Niel raises €2.7bn in towers sell-off

Eir owner Xavier Niel
Eir owner Xavier Niel
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

Eir owner Xavier Niel's phone carriers are raising €2.7bn of cash through the sale of towers to Cellnex Telecom, as they prepare for a wave of investment to boost coverage.

Since last year Xavier Niel has controlled a majority stake in Eir here in Ireland. At the end of April it raised €400m on the debt markets to refinance borrowing and to part fund a payout to shareholders.

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On the continent, Niel's Iliad and Salt Mobile are selling about 10,700 telecommunications masts to the Spanish tower operator, in three separate deals in France, Italy and Switzerland.

Shares of Iliad rose as much as 7pc in Paris trading, while Cellnex surged 8.8pc in Madrid. The proceeds will allow Iliad and closely-held Salt to cut debt and counter mounting competition across their markets by helping them finance network-building.

Iliad is losing customers amid a price war in France while trying to shake up the Italian market. "Today's announcements are encouraging," said Thomas Coudry, an analyst at Bryan, Garnier & Co. "But Iliad has yet to fully win back investors' confidence."

The deals give Iliad executives a plan to discuss with shareholders as it hosts its first-ever investor day in Paris, after reporting in-line results that showed customer losses continue in France.

Billionaire Mr Niel owns a majority of Iliad, whose shares have fallen by 40pc over the past year. It suffered its first broadband subscriber losses last year. Now, Iliad must build out its 5G network in Italy and spend on networks in France.

Additional reporting Bloomberg

Irish Independent

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