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Spanish cabler Auna bids for ONO

Client base is estimated at 1.8 million

MADRID — Spain’s main cable TV player, the Auna Group, has launched a bid to buy its main rival, telco company ONO.

The offer is valued at E2.4 billion ($3.1 billion), according to an Auna rep cited by Reuters. It includes $1.7 billion in assumed ONO debt.

Both Auna and ONO offer cable TV, as well as operate as triple-play services selling integrated fixed telephony, Internet and cable TV packages. Cable TV is not their major attraction.

According to second-quarter figures, ONO boasted 585,000 telephony clients, 354,000 TV customers and 225,000 Internet users. ONO forecasts a 2004 operating cash flow between $213 million and $226 million.

Auna’s client base is estimated at 1.8 million.

Some sort of merger attempt was expected between the two, although it’s come earlier than expected.

“It makes sense for the two operators to unite in that the Spanish market is fragmented geographically and neither had anything like national coverage,” Javier Marin, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, told Daily Variety.

The main market take Monday evening in Spain was that the bid represents foreplay in a complicated courtship game between the two telcos.

Though top execs at both companies have discussed the logic of a merger, Auna was expected to seek a public listing next year before bidding for ONO.

According to reports, Auna has tapped a syndicated loan of $9.0 billion — backed by ABN Amro, BNP Paribas, Citigroup and Calyon — for the ONO bid and its own re-financing.

ONO is 46% owned by Spaincom, a consortium of GE Capital, Bank of America and CDP Capital.

Auna’s main shareholders are Spanish utilities Endesa (30%) and Union Fenosa (19%), and bank the Santander Group (24%).

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