New owner at Eir? Iliad’s Xavier Niel on cusp of acquiring majority stake

20 Dec 2017

Iliad’s Xavier Niel at LeWeb. Image: @jibees/LeWeb/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

French billionaire rumoured to be close to taking charge of Ireland’s incumbent telecoms operator.

Update, 8.21am, 20 December 2017: Niel’s investment vehicle NJJ Telecom Europe has been confirmed as the new owner of Eir.

Xavier Niel’s Paris-listed telecoms company Iliad is reportedly on the eve of acquiring 66pc of Eir for an estimated €1bn.

Niel owns 52pc of Iliad where he is deputy chair and chief strategy officer, and is understood to be pursuing a stake in Eir through an investment company called NJJ Capital.

Niel has a net worth estimated at €8.3bn and is also the co-owner of French newspaper Le Monde. As well as his majority stake in Iliad, Niel also has a controlling stake in Monaco Telecom.

Under the leadership of Richard Moat, Eir has undergone a dramatic turnaround from being a technology follower to a leader in terms of 4G and fibre deployment, and the company previously announced its aim to deploy fibre broadband to 1.9m premises across Ireland by the end of 2018.

A new chapter in the history of Eir

The Irish Times reported this morning (20 December) that the acquisition of 66pc of Eir places an equity value of €1.5bn on the group and an enterprise value, including debt, of €3.8bn.

The deal is expected to be announced within days and will see the departure of Moat from the company, with the likelihood of a tidy windfall.

It is likely that current shareholders – Anchorage Capital, Davidson Kempner Capital and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC – will retain significant holdings in Eir alongside Niel.

In its most recent financial results (2 November), Eir reported Q1 revenues of €322m and revealed that 64pc of its total broadband base and 26pc of customers are on triple- and quad-play bundles including internet, mobile, TV and phone services.

It said that it already delivered fibre to more than 100,000 out of the 300,000 rural premises agreed with the Irish Government in April 2017, adding that it has submitted detailed information as part of its application for the National Broadband Plan tender process.

Iliad’s Xavier Niel at LeWeb. Image: @jibees/Official LeWeb Photos/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years