Telecom & Wireless

Italian Asset Sale News Could Save PIIGS Telecom Giants

They say that some banks are too big to fail, but Italy is among the nations in the PIIGS, and it is simply “too big to bail.” That means Italy has to solve its problems mostly on its own. So what happens when you see good news in corporate Italy? You could hope that copycat news will come from the rest of the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain).

Enter Telecom Italia SpA (NYSE: TI). Its shares were halted for trading in Milan on a limit up basis. Usually when you see the words “trading halt” or “trading suspended” in PIIGS nations, it is due to bad news. That is not the case for Telecom Italia shares on Wednesday, even though a key credit ratings downgrade was seen.

On the same morning that Moody’s downgraded Telecom Italia after its CEO exited, there were talks that the telecom giant is expected to have asset sales. If that happens, why could others in the lands of the PIIGS not follow suit? After all, telecom assets are fixed assets and are highly protected “toll road assets” as far as regulators are concerned.

We will not get too hot and bothered about which assets would be sold. It is Italy we are talking about here. What was impossible to ignore was that the American Depositary Receipts (ADRs) in New York trading were suddenly up 8% at $8.88, against a 52-week trading range of $6.20 to $10.22, and its market cap was listed as $17.1 billion. Again, if Telecom Italia can rally, then why not telecoms from other PIIGS nations?

Portugal Telecom SGPS S.A. (NYSE: PT) is an ADR for the telecom giant in Portugal. Its ADRs were up 0.5% at $4.58, against a 52-week range of $3.47 to $5.91. The company’s market cap is $3.9 billion, according to Yahoo! Finance. Portugal likely never would want this to be a foreign-owned asset, but they may be unable to impede any asset sales, as long as those sales did not involve more Portuguese being sent to the unemployment lines.

Then there is the ADR for Telefonica S.A. (NYSE: TEF) in Spain, with operations and assets inside and outside of the country. The Spaniards likely never would allow it to be owned by foreigners either, but they are unlikely to block or impede asset sales if they made the company stronger and did not result in more Spaniards out of work. Telefonica ADRs are up 1%, at $16.25 against a 52-week range of $12.31 to $16.33. Be advised that this 52-week high is from Wednesday. Its market cap is listed as $73 billion.

If one asset buyer comes to mind in any nation within shouting range of Europe or the Mediterranean Sea, it is Vodafone Group PLC (NASDAQ: VOD). It now has billions upon billions from the Verizon Wireless deal finalization, and the company is not expected just to make a huge one-time dividend. Vodafone’s market cap is $167 billion, and the ADR price of $34.29 compares to a 52-week range of $24.42 to $36.08.

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