Telefonica has lopped the best part of €4 billion from its debt pile in the space of a couple of days by closing the sale of towers in Europe and Latin America.

Mary Lennighan

June 4, 2021

2 Min Read
telecoms radio towers

Telefonica has lopped the best part of €4 billion from its debt pile in the space of a couple of days by closing the sale of towers in Europe and Latin America.

The Spanish incumbent brokered a €7.7 billion, two-part deal to sell off 31,000 telecoms towers held by its Telxius Towers business to passive infrastructure specialist American Tower at the start  of this year.

The first tranche closed on Monday, with Telxius receiving €6.2 billion for some 20,000 Spanish and German towers, making a €3.4 billion contribution to Telefonica’s debt-reduction efforts. And by Wednesday, part two was also complete; 7,000 sites in Brazil, Peru, Chile and Argentina fetched €0.9 billion and reduced the telco’s net debt by about half a billion euros.

There is an outstanding element of tranche one, that will see American Tower acquire an additional 4,000 rooftop sites in Germany in August, and that should wipe a further €0.7 billion from the telco’s debt.

The towers deals for part of a broader debt-reduction initiative from Telefonica, which received a further boost earlier this week with the launch of VMO2, the new UK joint venture comprising mobile operator O2 and Liberty Global’s Virgin Media that was given the go-ahead by UK competition regulators in May.

“The transactions announced this week, together with the inorganic operations pending closing, will reduce the group’s net debt by approximately €9 billion,” Telefonica said, in a statement.

It has made much of that €9 billion figure in recent months, around half of which will come from the UK venture; although it is a 50:50 JV, Telefonica was due to receive £5.7 billion in proceeds upon completion of the deal, which it will presumably channel into the debt-reduction programme.

Having just come into being, VMO2 is still whooping and hollering about its plans to shake up the market – essentially by being a full-service provider of some scale – rather than going into the nitty-gritty of the cost-savings Telefonica and Liberty Global have promised, but that’s understandable: the word ‘synergies’ is very rarely well-received by consumers…or indeed staff. The point is, Telefonica should be able to reduce its cost base in the UK in addition to the big chunks it is carving off its debt.

Telefonica is very proud of having closed three separate deals in the same week, and rightly so. It’s not just about pure debt-reduction, but also about the telco focusing its efforts into making sure its core business is sound going forward.

“All three are proof of the intense level of execution of the strategic plan presented by the company in November 2019, and an example of the commitment to an active business management, value creation and the acceleration of organic debt reduction,” Telefonica said in a statement.

It’s hard to argue with that, but the proof of the pudding will be in not only its next quarterly results announcement, but also its numbers in subsequent quarters.

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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