Yes, there will be a $20 billion LBO. Just not this one

As for the exit route, a return to public markets through an IPO, or a sale to a consortium of pension and infrastructure funds, would be logical


Demand for energy in Spain is expected to rise and there are probably costs to take out. Photo: Reuters
Demand for energy in Spain is expected to rise and there are probably costs to take out. Photo: Reuters

London: The barbarians are tooling up, so it can’t be long before a group of private equity firms club together for a $20 billion leveraged buyout.

But a bid for Endesa SA looks like a deal too far.

Blackstone, CVC, and KKR have mulled an offer for the Spanish utility, El Confidencial reported on Wednesday. Italian energy giant Enel SpA, which owns 70% of Endesa, scotched the report, branding it “old groundless speculation.”

Despite the denial, Endesa would be a logical target for private equity. It would be big, with an enterprise value of €26.5 billion ($28 billion) before any premium, and so require a group of firms to muster the equity necessary.

But Endesa’s net debt is low at just 1.3 times Ebitda. Lifting that to, say, four times would raise nearly €10 billion, cutting the amount of cash needed for a purchase. Asset sales could help cut the equity ticket too.

Demand for energy in Spain is expected to rise and there are probably costs to take out. Little wonder private equity, sovereign and infrastructure funds are already involved in the country’s industry.

As for the exit route, a return to public markets through an IPO, or a sale to a consortium of pension and infrastructure funds, would be logical.

There’s a snag. It’s hard to see why Enel would want to sell for anything other than a stupid price.

It doesn’t need the cash. Leverage is already under control, and coming down. Worse, Enel would be much diminished without Endesa—it would be a mostly Italian business with some small assets in Latin America and a splattering of renewable assets. The Spanish company contributed about 20% of Ebitda in 2015.

The only justification for a sale would be to fund acquisitions outside Europe—aping the strategy of Spanish peer Iberdrola SA. RWE AG and E.ON SE, both grappling with domestic challenges, might be tempted by offers for their UK subsidiaries. Or Enel could plant a flag in the US. Still, Brexit, tougher British regulation and the steep valuations US utilities are attracting make a switch to the UK or North America look a bad trade.

Then there’s Rome to worry about. It could do with the money given the parlous state of the public finances. A sale of Enel’s stake for 20% more than the current market price would raise €18 billion—money that could be returned to investors. Italy would get about €4.3 billion via its 24% stake. Nice to have, but a drop in a €2.2 trillion ocean.

Most costly would be the loss of national pride that would come with a major Italian company shrinking at a time of anxiety about Italy SpA being sold to foreigners.

Size may be no object in LBOs nowadays as firms raise record funds for takeovers. But that doesn’t mean everything is up for grabs. Bloomberg

More From Livemint