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Liberty Global to Divest UPC Austria to T-Mobile Austria

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Liberty Global Plc LBTYA has inked a deal to sell its Austrian cable business, UPC Austria, to T-Mobile Austria for 1.9 billion euros ($2.2 billion). Following this announcement, shares of Liberty Global rose 4.34% to $34.12 on Dec 21.

The sale price is inclusive of the company’s debt. The deal value is equivalent to 11 times of UPC Austria’s estimated 2017 adjusted segment operating cash flow (Segment OCF) or around 34 times of UPC Austria’s estimated 2017 operating free cash flow (OFCF).

Liberty Global aims to use the proceeds from the sale, to depart existing debt, reinvest in businesses, support stock repurchases and for other general corporate purposes. Subject to customary regulatory approvals and closing conditions, the sale is expected to conclude in the second half of 2018.

UPC Austria is one of Liberty Global’s smaller businesses, generating $342 million in annual revenues. As of Sep 30, 2017, UPC Austria’s cable network services managed to reach 1.4 million homes, serving 654,000 customers. Notably, the unit enjoyed 513,000 broadband subscriptions, 450,000 voice and 468,000 video services.

T-Mobile Austria is a subsidiary of German telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom AG.

Liberty Global’s decision to divest its Austrian business is part of its effort to restructure business. Several analysts opine that the sale might pave the way for a $175 billion merger of Liberty Global with Vodafone Group plc (VOD - Free Report) . The companies have already merged their Dutch operations (in December 2016) by forming a 50-50 joint venture (JV) in Netherlands. Rumors related to a possible deal between the two companies in Germany, also persist.

Deutsche Telekom aims to compete against larger companies like A1 Telekom Austria, a subsidiary of Telekom Austria AG TKAGY, combining UPC Austria with T-Mobile Austria. The merged entity is expected to be an integrated provider of mobile and fixed-line broadband services, with significant potential to grow in the Austrian market.

In a bid to sustain growth, Liberty Global is focused on such strategic businesses along with making additional investments to increase shareholder’s wealth.

Liberty Global was also considering selling its Swiss assets — UPC Switzerland LLC — due to declining revenues and subscriber counts. Notably, Swiss mobile operators — Sunrise Communications AG and Salt Mobile SA — might be interested in purchasing UPC Switzerland to boost market shares and revamp their mobile and fixed line convergence. The company is also working on the split off of its Latin American and Caribbean businesses.

Zacks Rank and Price Performance

Currently, Liberty Global carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

With such positives, Liberty Global portrays an impressive price performance. In the past six months, the stock gained 17.2%, compared with the industry’s growth of 1.2%.



Key Pick

A better-ranked stock to consider in the broader Consumer Discretionary sector is Cable One Inc CABO.

Cable One currently carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). The company’s sales and earnings estimates for fourth-quarter 2017 are estimated to increase 23.6% and 38.7%, respectively.

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