November 6, 2012 / 11:00 AM / in 5 years

KPN to sell German mobile towers to U.S. group -sources

* Sale to American Towers group being finalised

* KPN to raise 300-400 mln euros

* Tower sale deals more common for cash-strapped telcos

By Arno Schuetze

FRANKFURT, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Dutch telecoms firm KPN is finalising a deal to sell its German mobile phone towers to U.S. group American Towers for between 300 and 400 million euros ($384-511 million), two sources familiar with the matter said.

The deal, which could be sealed as early as next week, comes after lengthy talks with private equity firms EQT and KKR, French tower operator TDF Group and Antin Infrastructure Partners.

A spokesman for KPN declined to comment on Tuesday.

KPN, in which Mexico’s America Movil holds a 27.5 percent stake, needs the proceeds of the sale to pay for a mobile frequency auction currently ongoing in the Netherlands and to reduce its debt. Moody’s rating agency has KPN on negative watch for a downgrade.

KPN’s shares are down 48 percent this year - worse than all other European telecoms firms - as consumers have shifted to free online messaging services instead of traditional calls and texts, squeezing its profits.

The group’s net debt increased to 2.7 times core profit in the third quarter, exceeding its target of 2.5 times and up from 2.6 times at the end of June.

KPN slashed its dividend earlier this year to deal with debt and is expecting to pay out 0.35 euros per share for this year against its previous forecast of 0.90 euros.

The Dutch firm, which operates the E-Plus and BASE brands in Germany, is the third-largest mobile phone operator in the country after Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone.

In late October, the group sold its Dutch mobile towers to Indonesian group Protelindo for 75 million euros.

KPN has said that selling towers makes sense because maintaining them was not part of its core activities of selling voice and data services to customers and buinesses.

KPN then rents back the masts it has sold to keep operating its mobile phone businesses.

Such “tower sale and lease back” deals are becoming increasingly common as cash-strapped telecoms operators seek alternative means of financing their activities.

T-Mobile USA in September agreed to sell the rights to operate 7,200 mobile towers for $2.4 billion to Crown Castle International Corp to help fund a network upgrade and reduce debt at its parent Deutsche Telekom.

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