Partner's Israeli parent warns Hutchison must go ahead with deal

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 05, 2012 6:29 AM
Partner's Israeli parent warns Hutchison must go ahead with deal

By Steven Scheer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The debt-laden owners of Partner Communications <PTNR.TA> said Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa <0013.HK> must go through with a deal it has tried to abandon to buy back the Israeli mobile phone operator.

In August, Hutchison ended a deal to acquire 75 percent of Scailex <SCIX.TA> - whose main business is its 44.5 percent stake in Partner Communications <PTNR.O>, Israel's second-largest mobile operator - from Suny Electronic <SUNY.TA>.

Hutchison cited a substantial deterioration in Partner's second-quarter results, when net profit slid 41 percent and concerns that Suny and Scailex's bondholders would not agree to the deal since it would require them to take a loss.

In a letter to Hutchison, Suny and Scailex said Hutchison's claims, along with its bid to cancel the deal, were not valid.

"The acquisition is still in effect and the buyers are required to fulfill all of its obligations," the companies said in the letter issued to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Suny and Scailex warned that Hutchison would be responsible for any damages they and their share and bondholders suffered from the cancellation notice.

The companies intend to "take all necessary measures to protect against negative consequences and damages related to the cancellation notice, and reserve the right to remedies available to them against the buyers, including enforcement and/or compensation," the letter said.

Israeli holding company Scailex has debts of $760 million including $300 million owed to Hutchison, much of it from buying Partner - which operates under the Orange brand in Israel.

Scailex was seeking to repurchase about 50 percent of its outstanding non-convertible bonds and the deal with Hutchison was conditional on the success of the bond buyback.

The price offered represented 69 percent of the face value of the bonds, a "haircut" opposed by bondholders. Since the cancellation notice, Scailex's bond prices are down around 10 percent. Its shares were down 10.7 percent at midday on Wednesday in Tel Aviv, bringing losses since August 21 to nearly 60 percent.

The sale for $125 million in cash, announced in June, would put Hutchison back in charge of the telecoms company it founded in 1997 but sold to Scailex in 2009 for $17.50 per share, or $1.38 billion.

In the past year, Israel's mobile phone market has faced cut-throat competition partly from de-regulation that has put pressure on Partner's earnings and share price.

Partner's Nasdaq shares closed at $4.38 on Tuesday, down from $4.99 when the Scailex deal was announced in June.

The Hong Kong company had agreed to extend repayment of the $300 million loan it made to Scailex under the original deal by three years to April 2017, but now Scailex will have to repay the loan by 2014. If it cannot, Hutchison will get a 12 percent stake in Partner.

The Calcalist financial daily said that Ilan Ben Dov, who controls Suny and Scailex, has threatened not to pay back the $300 million loan owed to Hutchison.

(Editing by Dan Lalor and Helen Massy-Beresford)

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