January 29, 2020 / 10:51 AM / a month ago

Altice Europe unit offers to buy Israel's Partner Communications

JERUSALEM/PARIS (Reuters) - Altice Europe’s (ATCA.AS) ‘HOT’ subsidiary has offered to buy Israeli firm Partner Communications (PTNR.TA), in what would be the first major merger in Israel’s telecom sector and the latest acquisition for Franco-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi.

FILE PHOTO: An advertising board is seen during the first demonstration of the technology 5G in Lisbon, Portugal June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Israeli telecom companies have seen revenue and profit plunge in the wake of an industry shake-up in 2012 that led to the entry of a host of new mobile phone providers, as well as increased competition for internet and TV services.

Altice said in a statement on Wednesday it was uncertain that any transaction will be concluded and under which terms.

Partner Communications said its board will examine the offer. The company has a market capitalization of 2.8 billion shekels ($809 million), Refinitiv Eikon data shows.

Partner Communications’ shares, which dropped 16% last year, jumped 6.4% on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Altice Europe shares rose 0.6%.

Competition in Israel means an all-inclusive calling, text and surfing package can be had for as little as $6 a month.

With some companies barely profitable, many Israeli firms have so far baulked at investing in a new 5G network. HOT and Partner share the same network.

“Consolidation is the only way to restore some form of price repair as well to allow further investments in 5G and FTTH (fiber to the home),” Barclays analysts Tavy Rosner and Mathieu Robilliard wrote in a client note. “As a result we view today’s news as positive for the Israeli industry.”

They added that an acquisition of Partner would give HOT a 40% market share of mobile subscribers and become Israel’s largest cellular operator, while boosting its TV and fiber base.

HOT, according to Barclays, comprises 6% of Altice’s adjusted EBITDA and 7% of revenue.

Partner has undergone a change in ownership after U.S.-Israeli media magnate Haim Saban gave up his controlling stake last year, which reverted to Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa (0215.HK). Saban’s shares are being held by a receiver on behalf of Hutchison.

Barclays noted that Hutchison still needs a license from Israel’s telecoms regulator. “Hutchison might not want to go through this extensive process and potentially face an objection from the Communications Ministry. Therefore selling to Altice’s subsidiary HOT, which is an established company in Israel, would solve this issue,” it said.

Altice Europe has been selling non-core assets to cut its debts, but the company has still been making acquisitions, buying French fiber wholesale operator Covage for about 1 billion euros in November.

Drahi also bought auction house Sotheby’s last year in a $3.7 billion deal.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; editing by Mark Potter and Elaine Hardcastle

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