Exclusive: Ardian explores taking Italian tower operator INWIT private-sources

Illustration shows INWIT logo
INWIT logo is seen displayed in this illustration taken, May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

March 23 (Reuters) - French investment firm Ardian is in the early stages of exploring a bid for Italy's INWIT (INWT.MI), the country's top telecommunications tower operator with a market value of 11 billion euros ($12 billion), according to people familiar with the matter.

Ardian, which is the second largest shareholder in INWIT behind European tower company Vantage Towers AG (VTWRn.DE), wants to take INWIT private and is working with advisers at JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) on a potential offer, the people said.

The report helped to drive shares in INWIT to record highs in Milan on Thursday morning, up as much as 4.8%.

By 0815 GMT the stock was up 4.6%, to 11.8450 euros, just below the high of 11.87 euros hit in earlier trades.

Europe has seen infrastructure investors compete for a slice of its largest towers networks, partly because of their stable cash yield and long-term contracts. Deutsche Telekom last year sold 51% of its tower business Funkturm to a consortium of Canada's Brookfield and U.S. private equity firm DigitalBridge.

Any offer for INWIT could take months to materialise as preparations remain at a preliminary stage, one of the people said. Ardian is considering bringing in a co-investor to help fund a bid, given the size of the deal, this person added.

The shareholding of Vantage Towers is a potential hurdle to a deal as the company is understood to view itself as a “long-term holder” of INWIT, one of the sources said.

Ardian has a stake of around 30% and Vantage has 33%.

The sources cautioned that an offer is not certain and asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.

Ardian, Vantage Towers, INWIT and JPMorgan declined to comment.

Born as a spin-off of TIM’s mobile tower operations, INWIT merged in 2020 with Vodafone’s mast business in Italy to create a national champion in charge of over 23,000 towers.

INWIT generates the bulk of its revenue through long-term contracts with wireless carriers to host their respective mobile antenna infrastructure on its masts.

Vantage is itself the target of an offer to take it private from a joint venture formed by Vantage shareholder Vodafone (VOD.L) and a consortium including KKR and Global Infrastructure Partners.

Reporting by Milana Vinn in New York and Amy-Jo Crowley in London Additional reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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Milana Vinn reports on technology, media, and telecom (TMT) mergers and acquisitions. Her content usually appears in the markets and deals sections of the website. Milana previously worked at GLG and PE Hub, where she spent several years covering TMT deals in private equity. She graduated from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism with Masters in Business Journalism. Contact: 347-463-7957