Cellnex pays way more for French towers than KKR did two years ago

Cellnex is at it again. The Spanish infrastructure specialist has brokered a €5.2 billion deal to acquire Altice's French towers portfolio which it plans to finance via a sizeable capital hike.

Mary Lennighan

February 4, 2021

3 Min Read
telecommunications tower on mountain top

Cellnex is at it again. The Spanish infrastructure specialist has brokered a €5.2 billion deal to acquire Altice’s French towers portfolio which it plans to finance via a sizeable capital hike.

It’s tempting to immediately delve into Cellnex’s recent tower acquisition deals and marvel at the firm’s speed of expansion and the sums it is spending to build what is fast becoming a European mega-portfolio.

But actually, there is something more interesting about this particular deal that needs a mention first: the value of the business being acquired.

Cellnex said it will pay €5.2 billion for the business, known as Hivory, and has committed to a further spend of €900 million for the roll out of as many as 2,500 new sites and other projects over an eight-year period. That’s a big sum of money, which is something we have become accustomed to in this market in recent months.

It feels even bigger when you consider that Hivory was valued at €3.6 billion in late 2018, when Altice sold a 49.99% stake in it to investment fund KKR and the pair gave it its current name. That’s an increase of over €1.5 billion in just over two years, which represents a tidy return on investment by anyone’s standards.

The business does seem to have grown in that time. The total number of sites it owns has not changed significantly; KKR bought into a business with 10,198 towers and, according to Cellnex, its portfolio now numbers around 10,500. The company could have increased its tenancy ratio in the past couple of years though.

One way or another, earnings appear to have risen, although it’s difficult to ascertain by how much.

At the time of the KKR deal, Altice talked up the “very attractive” multiple of 18x 2017 pro forma EBITDA, which came in at €200 million, that the transaction represented.

Two years on and no one’s disclosing multiples. However, Cellnex said that the additional EBITDA it will generate from the deal “is estimated to reach €460 million,” but that figure includes the earnings it expects to bring in from the new sites in the pipeline. With that level of information, it’s difficult to make an accurate guess as to how the valuation of the business has changed since 2018.

However, we do know that towers businesses are drawing sizeable valuations at present, with Telefonica having brokered a 30.5x OIBDAaL for its Telxius Towers operation in Europe and Latin America, which it is selling to American Tower for €7.7 billion. We’re also expecting an earnings multiple in a similar range – perhaps somewhere in the late 20s – when Vodafone floats Vantage Towers later this year.

On a simple level though, a business is valued at what someone is willing to pay, and Cellnex is clearly up for throwing money at this deal.

And to spend this kind of money, Cellnex needs to raise some more.

The company has announced it will undertake a capital increase of up to €7 billion, which will help it finance projects worth as much as €18 billion in the six months after completion of the rights issue. Around €7 billion of the total is already spoken for, through the company’s agreement to merge its towers in the Netherlands with those of Deutsche Telekom and the Hivory acquisition.

Naturally, it did not comment on where it might spend the remaining €11 billion. But it’s pretty clear that Cellnex’s rapid expansion in Europe – it has built a portfolio of 75,000 towers already, rising to 120,000 including outstanding deals, like the €10 billion CK Hutchison mega-deal and new builds in the pipeline – is not over yet.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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