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CVC to start clock on sale of German metering firm Ista: Reuters

CVC Capital Partners is selling German metering and energy management group Ista, which could be worth up to 4 billion euros (US$4.3 billion), sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

The buyout group, which bought Ista in 2013 at a valuation of 3.1 billion euros, plans to send out preliminary information packs on the company around Easter. This will set in motion what could become the largest sale of a private equity portfolio company in Germany this year, they added.

Pension funds, insurers and infrastructure investors are expected to show interest, they said, adding that potential bidders were likely to form consortia given Ista’s size. The company employs about 5,100 people, 1,700 of them in Germany.

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which already owns a minority stake in Ista, is tying up with Borealis Infrastructure to make a bid, while Allianz, the Government of Singapore Investment Corp and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, are also likely to show their interest, the sources added.

Ista, which provides energy and water metering, posted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization of 364 million euros on sales of 843 million in the 12 months through end-September 2016. Its full-year earnings are due on April 25.

The company, which is present in 24 countries including China, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, is expected to fetch a valuation of more 10 times its 2017 expected core earnings, the sources said.

CVC and its sell-side adviser Goldman Sachs declined to comment. The prospective bidders also declined to comment or were not immediately available for comment.

Bankers are working on debt financings totaling around 2.5 billion euros, equating to around 6.75 times Ista’s core earnings, banking sources said. “It is a very financeable deal as it is extremely stable and very well known,” a senior leveraged finance banker said.

Before they put in their bids, potential buyers are awaiting a sector review on the metering industry by Germany’s competition authority, which is expected at the end of April.

However, the report is not expected to challenge Ista’s business model, the sources added, while the cartel office declined to comment.

Ista has said in the past that the sector analysis could help investors understand its service and margins.

The bidders will also weigh potential bids against the possibility of an investment in Ista peer Techem, which Australian infrastructure investor Macquarie is expected to put on the market at the end of the year, the sources said.

Ista head Thomas Zinnoecker said in January that he is hoping for an investor which would stay invested for 10 to 15 years, which is a typical investment horizon for pension funds, insurers or infrastructure investors, while private equity groups typically sell a company after three to five years.

By Arno Schuetze and Alexander Hübner

(Additional reporting by Claire Ruckin and Matthias Inverardi; editing by Maria Sheahan and Alexander Smith)

Photo courtesy of Ista