Israel's Scailex seeks to sell shares in Partner Comms
JERUSALEM Dec 26 (Reuters) - Debt-laden Scailex , the main shareholder in Partner Communications , said on Monday it was seeking to sell a block of shares in the Israeli mobile phone operator to shore up its balance sheet.
Scailex, the sole importer of Samsung mobile handsets in Israel, holds 44.54 percent of Partner's shares, with its parent Suny Electronics holding an additional 1.4 percent.
Partner is Israel's second largest mobile phone provider and operates under the Orange brand name.
The Calcalist financial daily said on its website Scailex was in contact with private equity firm TPG to sell a 16 percent stake in Partner. A Scailex spokeswoman declined to comment.
Scailex's share price rose 5 percent to 16.75 shekels after the firm's announcement.
Scailex's did not specify the size of stake it wanted to divest, but said it sought a strategic partner while maintaining control and a significantly higher transaction price than Partner's market value.
It said it was looking for an international bank to make the deal.
"The goal of the sale is to strengthen the ...capital structure," Scailex said. "The ... resolution also follows applications by various parties and following the demand of international funds for investment in telecom companies worldwide."
Scailex bought a controlling stake in Partner from Hutchison Telecommunications in 2009 for $1.38 billion, or $17.50 per share, well above Monday's price of 34.36 shekels ($9.08).
Scailex's debt is estimated at more than 3 billion shekels. In recent weeks, the Israeli units of Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service both cut its ratings.
In cutting to BBB+ from A- and placing its ratings on CreditWatch negative on Dec. 15, S&P Maalot said Scailex's liquidity was "less than adequate." A week earlier, Midroog lowered Scailex's rating to Baa1 with a negative outlook from A3 and a stable outlook.
On Sunday, Partner said it would integrate its 012 Smile subsidiary into the company. Partner bought 012 Smile, a provider of local and long distance calling and Internet services, last year for $191 million, plus $222 million in debt.
Last week, Scailex failed in an attempt to sell 50 percent of its import and distribution activities for Samsung mobile phones.
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