Report: Italy's Wind seeks masts deal as Hutchison talks stumble

Wind is reportedly moving ahead with a deal that would see the VimpelCom-owned Italian operator sell and lease back 11,000 mobile masts in order to cut debt, after talks with Hutchison Whampoa-owned rival Three Italy hit a road bump.

The deal, which has been long expected, could be worth at least €500 million ($650 million), Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources. Wind is now said to be pursuing that option after discussions with Three Italy stumbled over issues such as governance and unrest in Ukraine, which has caused a political dispute between Russia and Western nations.

At the same time, Reuters noted that any efforts to cut Wind's debt of around €9.6 billion (as of June) would be welcomed by Three Italy and would remove one of the existing hurdles to a possible merger between the two operators.

According to the report, VimpelCom's advisers on the masts sale have sent out invitations called "teasers" to around 30 potential bidders, including specialist tower management companies such as Crown Castle and American Tower. The 11,000 masts represent more than half of Wind's total tower assets.

Talks between Wind and Three Italy are understood to have been going on since last year but have repeatedly stalled over control issues, with neither party wanting to be the seller.

Hutchison Whampoa is known to be interested in boosting its position in Italy, and has also previously held talks with Telecom Italia. 

Wind competes with Telecom Italia, Vodafone Italy and Three Italy as the third-largest player on the hard-fought mobile market, and has also been seen as a possible target for former owner Naguib Sawiris, the Egyptian business tycoon.

In April, it was reported that VimpelCom was considering a multi-step refinancing plan to improve the capital structure of Wind in a move that reports suggested at the time could be a first step towards securing a merger for the Italian unit.

For more:
- see this Reuters article

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