Altice Confirms Plan to Sell French, Portugese Phone Towers

(Bloomberg) -- Altice NV confirmed plans to sell its telecommunications towers in France and Portugal as billionaire Patrick Drahi’s phone and cable company seeks to dispose of assets to cut debt.

The company is targeting signing a deal for about 13,000 tower sites in the two countries in the first half of this year, Amsterdam-based Altice said in a statement presenting fourth-quarter results late on Thursday. The portfolio is the largest to ever come up for sale in Europe, Altice said.

American Tower Corp. and private equity firm KKR & Co. are among bidders for the assets, which could be valued at about 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion), people with knowledge of the matter said this week. Shares in Altice rose 5.7 percent to 8.53 euros at 9:28 a.m. in Amsterdam.

Drahi has been attempting to reassure investors jumpy over a European business with around 31 billion euros of debt by halting acquisitions, committing to asset sales and spinning off its U.S. unit. After a rout in Altice’s stock that erased almost half of its value late last year, the Moroccan-born billionaire has also shuffled management and pledged to reduce borrowings.

Drahi’s businesses have been built after years of debt-fueled expansion in Europe and the U.S., where he assembled Altice USA -- the division that includes the former Cablevision Systems and Suddenlink -- through $26 billion of acquisitions. The U.S. unit has helped Drahi diversify Altice beyond a stagnant European telecommunications market and expand in sports and other media.

Altice reported a 1.9 percent decline in fourth-quarter pro forma revenue to 3.72 billion euros for its European operations. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in Europe rose 5.2 percent to 1.47 billion euros.

“Overall these results are slightly better than a very low bar of expectations –- but the challenging key performance indicators/divisional revenue trends show that there remains significant pressure on the business,” Credit Suisse analyst Jakob Bluestone said in a note to clients.

Altice this week said it started exclusive talks with Tofane Global to sell its international wholesale voice carrier business in France, Portugal and the Dominican Republic. In December, the company agreed to sell some Swiss telecom operations and data-center businesses valued at more than $200 million.

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