Debt-laden Telefonica, which is looking to sell off assets to ease balance-sheet pressure, has put on hold its preparations for an initial public offering of its Colombian operations as stock markets in emerging markets have begun to wobble, according to Bloomberg.
Citing unnamed sources, the Bloomberg report suggests the listing of the Spanish giant’s Colombian business unit (Colombia Telecomunicaciones), which is struggling to compete against Carlos Slim’s America Movil and wrestling with a mountainous pension-fund deficit, will probably be delayed until 2014 at the earliest.
Complicating matters further are presidential elections next May. Telefonica owns 70 per cent of its Colombian operations, while the state holds the remaining 30 per cent. The Spanish operator would need government approval for a listing to go ahead.
According to an April estimate by Andres Bolumburu, an analyst at Banco de Sabadell – quoted by Bloomberg – Telefonica could raise more than €500 million by selling a 19 per cent stake in its Colombian division (and so still retain control).
“This is a tough deal to get done as it implies very complex negotiations between Telefonica and the Colombian government with regards to the deleveraging of the subsidiary,” James Ratzer, a London-based analyst at New Street Research, told Bloomberg. “Investors will only subscribe to an IPO with a much lower level of debt.”
IPO uncertainty, however, did not prevent Telefonica bidding successfully for one of five 4G licences awarded by the Colombia’s minister of information technologies and communications last week.
In an auction that raised around $400 million in total, Telefonica paid just over $100 million (€79 million).
Other winners were Claro (a unit of America Movil), Avantel (a Colombian telecoms operator), DirecTV and a consortium controlled by Millicom International Cellular.
Telefonica is looking to cut its debt by €4 billion this year, to below €47 billion, and has already made progress in selling off some Central American assets after halting a plan for an IPO of all its Latin American assets.
In Europe, Telefonica recently agreed to sell its Irish business to Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa (which runs 3 Ireland) for €850 million.
Telefonica raised €1.45 billion from an IPO of its German business in 2012.