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Open Fiber shareholders buy time on Macquarie bid -sources

·2 min read

MILAN, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Shareholders in Italian broadband firm Open Fiber have agreed to postpone an initial deadline over a bid by Macquarie for a stake in the venture as they jostle for common ground, two sources close to the matter said on Thursday.

Italy's biggest utility Enel, which jointly owns Open Fiber with state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), gave a mandate to its CEO in December to sell between 40% and 50% of Open Fiber to the Australian infrastructure fund by June.

Under the deal, Macquarie would pay 2.65 billion euros ($3.2 billion) for a stake of 50%, though any final price could fluctuate depending on a series of earn-out and legal dispute clauses.

CDP, however, has a right of first refusal on any stake sale by Enel, complicating the disposal process. According to sources the preemption right is on the whole 50% stake and not just on part of it.

Italy's government is looking to create a full-fibre national network by merging Open Fiber with landline grid assets of Telecom Italia (TIM), which was formerly the country's telecom monopoly.

Sources have said Rome wants Macquarie to buy less than 50% so that CDP, which is also a shareholder of TIM, can take control of Open Fiber and make sure the blueprint for a single network operator is respected.

But the government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte emerged weakened from a confidence vote this week after a junior partner quit his coalition.

Enel notified CDP on Dec. 23 of talks to sell Macquarie its stake, giving CDP 30 days to make up its mind on whether to exercise its pre-emption right, sources previously said.

A request by CDP for more documentation and differences of opinion on a number of issues, including the price of the stake, have led the parties to agree an extension of about a month, sources said.

One source said the new deadline had now been set for Feb. 25.

Enel and CDP both declined to comment.

($1 = 0.8235 euros) (Reporting by Elvira Pollina, Giuseppe Fonte and Stephen Jewkes Editing by Susan Fenton)