November 7, 2017 / 11:37 AM / 2 years ago

Alpiq looks to sell assets to rein in debt - sources

* To offer majority stakes in 3 money-making businesses - sources

* Looking to cut debt, shore up liquidity and credit rating

* Aiming to collect first-round bids before Christmas

By Arno Schuetze and John Miller

FRANKFURT/ZURICH, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Swiss utility Alpiq is looking to sell majority stakes in its three money-making divisions as part of a drive to reverse chronic losses from its dam operations due to low electricity prices.

The company is working with Goldman Sachs to find investors for the units - Digital & Commerce, Industrial Engineering and Building Technology & Design - and is planning to send out information packages to prospective buyers this month, sources close to the matter said.

It aims to collect first-round bids before Christmas, the people added.

Alpiq and Goldman declined to comment.

Money-losing Alpiq, whose hydroelectric facilities high in the Swiss Alps cost more to generate power than it can be sold for in Europe’s wholesale market, has said finding buyers for the units would help shore up liquidity, reduce debt and preserve access to capital markets.

After initially considering only selling minority stakes in its growth businesses, the utility changed its mind in August. That was after it could not find any buyers for stakes in its water power assets.

Alpiq is not alone with its water-power problems: Unlisted Axpo has also written off hundreds of millions of Swiss francs from its hydro assets after electricity prices in Europe dropped around 70 percent in less than a decade.

The three units are the only ones producing operating earnings for Alpiq, which made a first-half loss of 109 million francs ($109 million).

The Industrial Engineering unit, which specialises in construction and maintenance of power plants, made core earnings of 72 million francs in the first half on sales of 342 million.

Alpiq is marketing it to peers such as Xervon, Bouygues , Engie Fabricom and Ebert Hera and is hoping to fetch about 7-8 times the unit’s core earnings, the sources said.

The Building Technology & Design unit specialises in services such as electrical and heating installation and maintenance as well as infrastructure construction and made first-half core earnings of 23 million francs on sales of 639 million. The fourth quarter is usually the strongest in that business.

It could appeal to peers such as construction companies Implenia, Strabag, Vinci, Spie and Apleona, as well as buyout firms, which may pay up to 10 times the unit’s core earnings.

Digital & Commerce, which comprises Alpiq’s gas and electricity trading as well as digital services business, made first-half adjusted core earnings of 67 million francs on sales of 2.4 billion.

Alpiq may opt to sell stakes in only one or two businesses, or agree to a partnership with a peer if that would be enough to improve its leverage and credit rating, the sources added.

$1 = 1.0001 Swiss francs Editing by Mark Potter

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