Telecom Italia (TI) is to “evaluate and define” possible amendments to the sale process of its stake in Telecom Argentina, which has been underway since November 2013, against a backdrop of rumours that the Italian incumbent itself is likely to be the subject of a bid.
In a statement issued late on Friday, TI said it is heading back to the negotiating table with Fintech, the buyer of the Telecom Argentina holding, with an agenda including measures to address delays in attaining regulatory approvals, “including certain guarantees for [TI]”. The agreement entered into last year remains in place until 24 October 2014.
The news came shortly after it was reported that Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian telecoms tycoon, was still interested in investing in TI, having been linked with a bid as far back as 2012. At that point, TI had other issues on its plate.
Last week, it was also reported that Sol Trujillo, former head of Australian incumbent Telstra, was in talks with investors about a potential plan to take control of Telecom Italia, although this has not so-far turned into a concrete bid.
The major difference appears to be the size of the ambition: while Trujillo’s plan is described as a $9.6 billion bid, Sawiris’ is reportedly closer to $2.5 billion – meaning the Egyptian investor is clearly looking to take a smaller stake.
Reuters noted that Telecom Italia’s “increasingly fragmented” shareholder base makes it more vulnerable to take-overs, what with Telefonica being in the process of disposing of its stake, and several Italian finance houses also putting their ownership on the block.
According to reports earlier this year, the continued presence of Telefonica was a potential sticking point for a Sawiris bid.
With the Telecom Argentina deal dragging on, Telecom Italia has also been on the losing end of consolidation in its other major overseas market, Brazil.
A bid to buy cable company GVT and merge it with the TIM mobile business fell through after Vivendi, GVT’s owner, instead opted to do a deal with Telefonica.
While Telecom Italia has also been linked to a partnership with major fixed-line player Oi, this has not so far come to fruition. In addition to scale benefits and synergies in combining two Brazilian operators, a deal would also enable TIM/Oi to offer bundled fixed and mobile services.