American Tower Buys Telefonica Masts for $9.4 Billion

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American Tower Corp. is buying telecommunication towers in Europe and Latin America fromTelefonica SA for 7.7 billion euros ($9.4 billion), signaling a new competitive threat in Europe’s fast-growing tower industry.

American Tower is paying cash to acquire around 30,700 tower sites from Telefonica unit Telxius Telecom, Telefonica said in a statement. The Spanish phone company expects to make a capital gain of around 3.5 billion euros.

U.S. private equity firm KKR & Co. owns 40% of Telxius and Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega owns close to 10% through his investment vehicle.

The deal represents a shift in strategy for American Tower, which along with rival U.S. operator Crown Castle International Corp. had largely stayed away from Europe, where phone companies are trying to raise money from their infrastructure to cut debt and pay for costly 5G rollouts.

Their absence has made it easier for Europe’s largest independent tower operatorCellnex Telecom SA to snap up assets across the region. Europe’s biggest wireless carrier, Vodafone Group Plc, is working on an initial public offering of its tower unit in the first half of the year.

Telxius has towers in Spain, Germany, Brazil, Peru, Chile and Argentina. The sale is the biggest ever by Telefonica and will cut its net debt of around 37 billion euros by approximately 4.6 billion euros.

American Tower and Telefonica already have partnerships in Brazil in optic fiber networks.

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