May 9, 2019 / 9:14 PM / 2 months ago

Infratil in talks to buy Vodafone's NZ unit

WELLINGTON/BANGALORE (Reuters) - Utilities investor Infratil Ltd said on Friday it was in talks with Vodafone Group Plc to buy, along with another unnamed party, the telecom giant’s New Zealand operations.

The proposed deal comes as Vodafone is looking to consolidate its businesses in Australia and New Zealand, with an $11 billion deal underway to merge its Australian joint venture business with TPG Telecom. Australia’s anti-trust regulator blocked that merger bid on Thursday.

“The discussions with Vodafone and financiers are ongoing and incomplete, and may not result in a transaction occurring,” Infratil said in a statement.

Vodafone’s New Zealand unit declined to comment.

The Australian Financial Review had reported on Thursday that the British firm was in talks to sell its New Zealand business to Canadian investment giant Brookfield and Infratil, which is managed by Morrison and Co, in a deal that could be worth A$2.5 billion ($1.8 billion).

The firms are looking to buy in the business in a 50/50 joint venture, the report said.

A spokeswoman for Brookfield said it was unable to comment for now. Infratil declined to comment.

A deal in 2017 to sell off Vodafone NZ to Sky Network Television for NZ$3.44 billion ($2.3 billion) fell through after the Commerce Commission cited monopoly concerns.

Since then, Vodafone’s Kiwi unit axed thousands of staff members and restructured its business to get it in shape for a stock market listing.

Plans to float the business never took off but the newly installed CEO, Jason Paris, said in November that the company would look for an IPO in 2020.

The firm has about 3,000 employees and 72 retail shops across New Zealand. It has accumulated 2.4 million customers since it started operations in 1998, its website shows.

Infratil owns several well known infrastructure assets including stakes at airports, public transport businesses, and energy businesses across New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

While this would be its first major venture in the telecoms sector, the firm has a track record of managing companies well, said Grant Williamson, director of Hamilton Hindin Greene.

“Infratil has been liquidating some of its infrastructure assets over the last year, so it has a war chest for this deal,” added Williamson.

Reporting by Praveen Menon in WELLINGTON and Rushil Dutta in BENGALURU; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Stephen Coates

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