September 26, 2014 / 8:59 AM / 5 years ago

Shareholders challenge Telecom Italia's exit from Argentina

MILAN, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Telecom Italia should hang on to its controlling stake in Telecom Argentina, a group of small investors said on Friday, reflecting growing unease among shareholders about a planned exit.

The comments added to pressure on the Telecom Italia board which was meeting on Friday to discuss the deal.

Telecom Italia agreed to sell its 22.7 percent stake in Telecom Argentina to investment company Fintech almost a year ago for $960 million but the deal has been delayed awaiting regulatory approval.

Late on Thursday Telecom Italia said Fintech had asked it to further extend the agreement to buy the stake in a last-minute attempt to ensure the sale does not fall apart.

However, investor group Asati has challenged the sale.

“Telecom Italia should maintain (control of) the unit, the positive financial impact of which has already been booked in first-half results,” Asati said in a letter it sent to Telecom Italia’s board on September 22.

“There should be no discounted sale to Fintech,” Asati said.

The group says it represents around 6,000 small Telecom Italia investors with a combined stake of around 1 percent.

Its comments chime with the views of Telecom Italia’s second-biggest investor Marco Fossati, who has a holding of just under 5 percent. Fossati told Reuters earlier this month the company should consider keeping its stake in Telecom Argentina.

Telecom Italia CEO Marco Patuano has said the group would rethink the deal if local regulators did not approve it by a deadline of Sept. 25.

Failure to clinch the sale would leave the heavily indebted Italian incumbent with less cash to invest in faster networks and 4G services, a major plank of Patuano’s strategy.

In its letter Asati also said there was no need for Telecom Italia to sell its Brazilian unit TIM Participacoes.

Reporting by Stephen Jewkes; editing by Keith Weir

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