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UPDATE 2-Hutchison to regain control of Partner Communications
June 5, 2012 / 7:57 AM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 2-Hutchison to regain control of Partner Communications

* Hutchison to pay $125 mln for 75 pct of Scailex

* Scailex to sell Samsung import business to Suny for $100 mln

* Repayment of Hutchison’s $300 mln loan to Scailex delayed 3 years

* Hutchison plans to name Partner’s former CEO as chairman (Adds quote from Hutchison call, new chairman, analyst comments)

TEL AVIV, June 5 (Reuters) - Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa is to take back control of Partner Communications in a deal that will help the Israeli mobile phone company’s parent Scailex tackle its debts.

The sale puts Hutchison back in charge of the telecoms company it founded in 1997 but sold to Israeli holding company Scailex in 2009 for $1.38 billion. Since the sale, Israel’s cellphone market has faced cut-throat competition partly from de-regulation that has put pressure on Partner’s earnings and share price.

The Israeli government has forced mobile operators to slash fees they charge each other to connect calls and to scrap exit fines for customers. It also issued new licences to create more competition and push prices down.

Hutchison had sold its Partner stake for $17.50 a share three years ago, well above Partner’s closing price of $4.99 on Nasdaq on Monday.

The Hong Kong company has also agreed to extend repayment of a $300 million loan it made to Scailex under the original deal by three years to April 2017.

Scailex had expected to finance the loan with dividend payments from Partner. But Partner, which has seen its profit fall sharply, last paid a dividend in the third quarter of 2011.

“Hutchison believes in doing business in Israel, it believes there is an opportunity in the cellular market in Israel,” Dan Eldar, a representative of Hutchison in Israel, told a conference call. “We believe we know how to create value in holding Partner.”

Tsahi Avraham, an analyst at brokerage Clal Finance, said the news was positive for Partner.

“Hutchison’s positive reputation, accumulated during the years of building Partner, together with its financial strength, give the company breathing space,” he said.

Avraham expects one of Hutchison’s first decisions will be to cut Partner’s future dividend payments to 25-30 percent of net profit and perhaps cancel them altogether for the time being.

Under the agreement, Hutchison and the Li Ka Shing foundation, owned by Hutchison’s controlling shareholder, will pay $125 million in cash for the 75 percent stake in Scailex.

Scailex’s parent company Suny Electronic Inc, which is selling the stake, had said on Sunday talks were taking place. Scailex owns 44.5 percent of Partner.

Partner shares were up 2.1 percent to 19.25 shekels in afternoon trade.

SALES OF SAMSUNG BUSINESS

As part of the Hutchison deal, Scailex will sell its business importing Samsung mobile handsets into Israel to Suny for $100 million. Suny is controlled by Israeli businessman Ilan Ben-Dov, who is also chairman of Partner.

Hutchison and the foundation plan to appoint Amikam Cohen, Partner’s former CEO, as Partner’s chairman in place of Ben-Dov.

Scailex has debts of $760 million, including the $300 million owed to Hutchison, much of it f rom buying Partner.

The company is also seeking to do a bond buyback to help service its debts.

Scailex plans to repurchase about 50 percent of its outstanding non-convertible bonds at a price that is 0.09 shekels higher than the closing prices of the bonds on the last trading day before the announcement of the transaction, Hutchison said in a statement.

That price represents 69 percent of the face value of the bonds. The deal with Hutchison is conditional on the success of the bond buyback, among other things.

Hutchison, which operates 13 cellular networks worldwide, is also constructing a desalination facility in Israel, together with its partner desalination firm IDE, that will be among the largest in the world.

$1 = 3.89 shekels Reporting by Tova Cohen; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters and Jane Merriman

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