Telefonica seeking bids for Irish O2 unit by end of the month
Sale may raise €700m for firm
TELEFONICA is encouraging potential buyers for its Irish unit, O2, to submit bids within the month.
Possible buyers include Eircom, UPC Ireland and Three Ireland parent Hutchison Whampoa, with each receiving information on the sale.
It is believed that the heavily indebted Spanish telecoms company may raise more than €700m from the sale of O2.
Last month, the Madrid-based company repeated that it wanted to cut its net debt to less than €47bn by year end from about €51.2bn.
O2 is the second largest of five operators in the Irish mobile phone market, which generated €1.5bn of sales last year.
Telefonica declined to comment on the sale plans, while a spokeswoman for O2 said it would also not be commenting.
The company's market share fell to 25pc in the fourth quarter of 2012, from 34pc two years earlier, as Vodafone Group, Eircom and Three Ireland all added customers.
Hutchison, which made a failed attempt to buy Eircom last year, is planning to make a bid for 02.
Three declined to comment.
"We do believe that consolidation will take place in the Irish telecoms market and Three will be a consolidator," the company said in an emailed response to questions.
"With Hutchison Whampoa interested in investing further in Ireland, we will consider opportunities that arise."
Eircom declined to comment but its chief financial officer Richard Moat said in an interview last month that it wanted to buy rivals.
Telefonica is thought to have received expressions of interest to buy or merge the Irish business with a number of other players.
Telefonica, which plans to cut debt to under €47bn by the end of 2013, has disposed of 40pc of its Central American assets, its treasury stock, so far this year. (Bloomberg)