RPT-UPDATE 1-Ontario Teachers, PCCW among bidders for Leighton assets-sources

Mon Jan 28, 2013 4:00pm EST

* PCCW interested in the data businesses-sources

* Bidders to submit proposals in early Feb-sources

By Stephen Aldred and Lee Chyen Yee

HONG KONG, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Giant Canadian pension fund Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan has emerged as a final-round bidder for the fibre-optics business of Leighton Holdings Ltd , according to sources with knowledge of the matter, a business that analysts have said could fetch as much as A$870 million ($908.15 million).

The $117.1 billion Teachers', Canada's largest single-profession pension plan, is lining up against Australia's TPG Telecom Ltd to bid for Leighton's NextGen business, the sources said.

Hong Kong telecommunications company PCCW Ltd is also preparing a bid of around $300 million for two smaller data businesses, Metronode and Infoplex, two separate sources said.

Leighton, controlled by Spain's ACS, is selling the intercity fibre-optic business, known as NextGen, and the Metronode and Infoplex data businesses, to pay down debt.

Australia's largest construction company, Leighton has been plagued by losses from the delayed construction of a water desalination plant in the state of Victoria and a road link to Brisbane airport in Queensland state which opened in July, months behind schedule.

Earlier private equity interest in the assets is waning, the sources said, with KKR & Co L.P. dropping its bid altogether and rival U.S. private equity firm Providence Equity Partners not likely to place a final bid.

Bidders are currently working on a Feb. 9 deadline, two of the sources said.

Along with many Western pension plans, Teachers' is actively seeking opportunities for direct investments to increase its share of profits as it faces the need to provide pensions for ageing populations. Teachers' administers the pensions of 300,000 active and retired teachers in Ontario.

Teachers' senior vice president for global infrastructure, Stephen Down, recently told The Australian newspaper that Australia was a "really great market to invest in", citing its regulatory regime and openness to foreign direct investment.

Last year, Teachers' acquired a 9.9 percent stake in South Korea's Kyobo Life for around $400 million, and before that, with Hastings Funds Management, signed a A$2.3 billion ($2.35 billion) deal on the long-term lease of the Sydney Desalination Plant with Australia's New South Wales state.

The pension firm plans to open its first Asia office this year in Hong Kong with as many as 10 staff.

Officials with KKR, PCCW, Providence and Teachers' declined to comment. Officials with TPG Telecom and Leighton Holdings could not be reached for comment. The sources could not be named as the process was confidential.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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