HK tycoon Woo seeks bidders for $1 billion-plus telecoms unit, from KKR to Anbang, say sources: Reuters

Hong Kong tycoon Peter Woo’s Wharf Holdings Ltd plans to sell its telecoms business in a deal that could be worth more than $1 billion, people familiar with the matter said, and has asked more than a dozen potential suitors, including both giant Chinese insurers and Western buyout firms, to submit bids.

KKR & Co, CVC Capital and TPG Capital Management are among the companies invited to submit bids, the people told Reuters. First-round bids are due by end-June, they said.

Insurers Anbang Insurance Group and Ping An Insurance Group, as well as acquisitive technology conglomerate Tsinghua Unigroup, are among the other suitors invited to bid, one of the people said.

The jostling of big Chinese players and global private equity firms in high-profile auctions is becoming more commonplace. Buyers from mainland China are actively seeking assets, even outside their core business, in a hunt to diversify from a slowing economy and mitigate Chinese currency risks.

Chinese companies have launched about $103 billion worth of outbound mergers and acquisitions so far this year already, according to Thomson Reuters data, compared with last year’s record $113 billion of deals.

Even firms that are relatively unknown outside their home territory have showed a willingness to pay top dollar to buy assets. In a hotly contested auction earlier this month, China’s Thaihot Group beat out a number of better known and global players to buy Dah Sing Financial Holdings Ltd’s insurance unit for $1.4 billion – Hong Kong’s most expensive piece of insurance M&A on record.

Wharf Holdings, which owns some of Hong Kong’s marquee properties including the Times Square and Harbour City shopping malls, said last year it was undertaking a strategic review of its communications, media and entertainment division.

That division includes a privately owned telecoms business called Wharf T&T – Hong Kong’s second-largest business fixed-line operator, according to the company’s website – and publicly traded I-cable Communications Ltd.

Wharf T&T generated about $100 million in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), and the business could be sold for a multiple of 10 or 11 times its EBITDA, the people familiar with the matter said, taking the potential deal value above $1 billion.

Among other suitors, Hong Kong broadband and telecoms service providers HKBN Ltd and SmarTone Telecommunications Ltd have also been invited to participate in the auction, the people added.

Officials at Wharf, Anbang, Tsinghua Unigroup, KKR, TPG and HKBN declined to comment, while Ping An and SmartTone did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

The people familiar with the matter declined to be identified as the sale process was confidential.