* America Movil denies in talks about any share purchase
* Telecom Italia Chairman sees 'lots of time to discuss'
* Investor believes Italy govt will not block merger
* Telecom Italia shares rise 8.4 percent
By Paola Arosio
MILAN, Sept 5 Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris and
U.S. telecoms giant AT&T have contacted the core investors
who want to sell their shares in Telecom Italia, a
source close to the situation said.
The same source earlier said Mexico's America Movil
had been interested, though the Mexican telecoms giant
owned by tycoon Carlos Slim denied it had had any contact.
There had been no formal expression of interest in buying
the stakes, said the source, who is familiar with the thinking
of Telecom Italia shareholders.
Investors' expectations of a shake-up in the telecoms sector
were ratcheted up this week when Verizon Communications
agreed to buy British operator Vodafone out of its U.S.
wireless business for $130 billion, and Telecom Italia is seen
as an early target.
The board of Telecom Italia is meeting on Sept. 19, and its
Chairman Franco Bernabe is seeking a new investor ahead of the
AT&T declined to comment. Sawiris was not immediately
available for comment.
"I can categorically deny that," America Movil Chief
Financial Officer Carlos Garcia Moreno told Reuters in a
telephone interview. "We have not had any contact."
Bernabe, who has been at the helm of the debt-laden Italian
telco since 2008, was giving nothing away.
"Whatever is decided, if there is anything to be decided,
will be discussed at the appropriate time and namely at the
board meeting of Sept. 19 of Telecom Italia and the following
ones. So there will be lots of time to discuss," he told
reporters at the sidelines of a telecoms conference in Brussels.
Shareholders have so far shot down two merger plans that
Bernabe brought to the board. The first was a proposal last year
of Sawiris taking a stake through a 3-billion-euro capital hike,
while the second involved a merger with Hutchison Whampoa's
Italian mobile unit.
But the Verizon deal is putting Telecom Italia, vulnerable
due to its low profitability and net debt of more than 28
billion euros, back in the frame.
Marco Fossati, who owns 5 percent of Telecom Italia, told
Reuters on Thursday that time was ripe for Telecom Italia to
merge with another sector player, and he believed that the
current Italian government would not block a merger with a
Shares of Telecom Italia soared as much as 9.6 percent on
Thursday. It halved its gains after the denial from America
Movil before closing 8.39 percent firmer at 0.607 euros, giving
the company a market capitalisation of more than 10 billion
Telecom Italia is 22.4 percent-owned by Telco, which is in
turn controlled by Italian banks Mediobanca and Intesa Sanpaolo
, domestic insurer Generali and Spanish
telecoms operator Telefonica.
Mediobanca has openly said it is preparing for a
sale after writing down its indirect investment in Italy's
biggest telecoms group to around current market price.
Shareholders have until Sept. 28 to exercise the option to
leave the Telco pact early.
"The acceleration in the sector's consolidation and Telecom
Italia's and its holding company's difficulties support the idea
of extraordinary operations," ICBPI brokerage said in a note,
adding that the likely exit of Mediobanca and Generali from the
Telco pact by Sept. 28 was boosting speculation on the stock.
Italian daily la Repubblica said on Thursday Bernabe planned
to propose to the board a reserved capital increase to bring in
a new investor.