Billionaire Drahi vows speedy asset sales to cut debt at Altice

By Mathieu Rosemain

PARIS (Reuters) – French-Israeli billionaire Patrick Drahi vowed on Tuesday to slash debts at Altice France, home to the country’s second-biggest telecoms operator, by selling assets within a year.

Drahi, under pressure after his right-hand man was arrested over allegations of corruption, is striving to boost creditors’ confidence in the financial reliability of his sprawling media-to-cable empire, whose combined debts total $60 billion.

At Altice France, one the three separate entities composing the Altice group, falling sales and core operating profits in the second quarter have added to the concerns, with net debt rising close to 24 billion euros ($26 billion).

Assets will be sold within Altice France or outside France to repay debt, Drahi told investors on a conference call.

“(The aims is) to raise, one way or another, 3 billion (euros) of equity, plus or minus,” Drahi said.

“We have lots of options: one, is asset disposals, bringing cash; two, lot of people are calling to be partners with us; and three, bringing cash from our other businesses,” Drahi added, as analysts pressed him to provide details on the deleveraging plan.

Altice France’s net leverage ratio at end of June was 6.3 times its yearly core operating profits.

There are active discussions for the potential sale of Altice France’s date centres, senior adviser Dennis Okhuijsen said on the same call, adding he was confident about giving an update on potential sales during third quarter results.

In its second quarter earnings presentation on Tuesday, Altice France, home to France’s second-biggest telecoms firm SFR, said it would do “whatever it takes” to reduce leverage.

Altice France’s net debt was close to 24 billion euros at the end of June, up from 23.6 billion at end of March, the group said.

It posted a 5.7% fall in core operating profits in the second quarter. Total earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell to 1.02 billion euros from 1.08 billion euros a year earlier. Total revenues fell by 2.6% to 2.77 billion euros.

Drahi told investors on Monday he felt “shocked” and “betrayed” by an ongoing corruption probe at its Portuguese unit Altice Portugal

Altice’s co-founder Armando Pereira was placed under house arrest in Portugal last month while an investigation is conducted. Pereira has denied any wrongdoing.

($1 = 0.9141 euros)

(Writing by Mathieu Rosemain and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Silvia Aloisi and Mark Potter)