European cable and mobile operator Altice said Wednesday it had bought 70 percent of Suddenlink Communications in a deal that values the seventh-largest US cable company at $9.1 billion (8.2 billion).
"With this acquisition, the Altice Group enters the large and attractive US cable market and takes a further step in diversifying and balancing its portfolio of high-quality businesses," said a statement from the company, which owns the French cable and mobile operator Numericable-SFR.
With 1.5 million residential and 90,000 business customers in Texas, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona, Suddenlink is present in attractive growth markets and generated $2.3 billion in revenue and over $900 million operating profits last year.
"We are very excited about the acquisition of Suddenlink and are highly committed to continue to improve network investment, customer offers and service innovation in the attractive US market," Altice chief executive Dexter Goei said in a statement.
"Our investment in Suddenlink, our first in the cable sector in the US, opens an attractive industrial and strategic avenue for Altice in the US, one of the largest and fastest growing communications markets in the world," he added.
Luxembourg-based Altice, which is controlled by French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi, has been on an acquisition drive.
Last year it propelled itself into the major leagues in France when it won a bidding war for mobile operator SFR which it is merging with Numericable.
That deal, worth as much as 14.25 billion euros, was financed mostly with debt, and raised eyebrows as its market capitalisation at the time was just 11.3 billion euros.
It also snapped up the Portugese assets of Brazil's Oi-Portugal Telecom for 7.4 billion euros.
Altice now boasts 30,000 employees in 15 countries and 30 million subscribers. Although primarily European, Altice also in a number of other countries including Israel, where it owns the top pay TV operator HOT, which had 1.1 million customers and over 857 million euros in revenue last lear.
Altice said it would pay $1.2 billion in cash for the Suddenlink stake and that most of the rest of the transaction would be financed with $6.7 billion of new and existing debt at the US company.
The remainder would be financed by a $500 million vendor loan note and roll over of investments from current owners BC Partners and CPP Investment Board, which will retain a 30 percent stake in Suddenlink.
- Altice still on the prowl -
And the Suddenlink purchase may not be Altice's last, according to a source familiar with the transaction, as it is interested in participating in the consolidation sweeping the US cable sector.
The source said Altice is interested in larger cable companies, like number two operator Time Warner Cable (TWC) with 11 million subscribers in major markets like New York and Los Angeles.
Since TWC's merger with market leader Comcast was called off last month due to opposition from antitrust regulators, it has already been approached by rivals.
The source said there have already been contacts between Altice and TWC, but that the Suddenlink transaction must be closed first, which is expected in the final quarter of this year following regulatory approvals.
Altice's move shows up rival French telecommunications giant Iliad, owner of the Free mobile and Internet service provider, which failed in its attempt to buy T-Mobile US last year.
Altice's shares shot up 7.3 percent in midday trading to 124 euros in Amsterdam, where they are listed on the Euronext exchange.