Cellnex-F2i front-runners to buy Italy's Inwit: sources

MILAN/MADRID (Reuters) - A consortium comprising Spain's Cellnex CLNX.MC and Italian infrastructure fund F2i is the front-runner to buy 45 percent of communications tower company Inwit INWT.MI, two sources close to the matter said on Thursday.

The Cellnex-F2i offer - at between 4.35-4.5 euros per share, according to figures from three sources - was seen as the favorite because a tie-up would offer savings of around 1 billion euros ($1.09 billion). But the price, which compares with Inwit's close of 4.55 euros on Thursday, may be too low to convince parent Telecom Italia TLIT.MI, which owns 60 percent of Inwit after listing a 40 percent stake last year, one of the sources said.

Apart from the consortium, Italy's EI Towers EIT.MI and American Tower AMT.N have also submitted non-binding offers for Inwit, which is controlled by Italian phone group Telecom Italia TLIT.MI, the sources said.

Should Cellnex-F2i succeed, the consortium would be required to launch a mandatory takeover of the rest of the tower group to comply with Italian law, which requires buyers to bid for the whole company once a threshold of 30 percent is breached. To avoid that, EI Towers has proposed buying just under 30 percent of Inwit, but its bid is seen as strategically less attractive, even if the price offered is higher, one of the sources added.

Telecom Italia Chief Executive Marco Patuano has repeatedly said the parent was open to a sale but would like to keep a 15 percent stake in the tower group and have the right to nominate one member to its board. A separate source said this week that binding offers for the unit were expected by mid-March. Telecom Italia has said it would like to clinch a deal by the end of June.

F2i, Cellnex, Inwit, Telecom Italia and EI Towers declined to comment, while American Towers could not be reached for comment. ($1 = 0.9184 euros)

Additional reporting by Cristina Carlevaro, writing by Agnieszka Flak; editing by Susan Thomas