By Inti Landauro and Isla Binnie
KKR, Cinven and Providence said on Monday they had made a 2.96 billion euro ($3.3 billion) board-backed bid for Spanish telecoms operator MasMovil.
In the first European take-private attempt by major buyout firms since the coronavirus crisis struck, the private equity trio said holders of 29.56% of MasMovil's stock had already agreed to sell for 22.50 euros per share.
Providence is MasMovil's second-largest shareholder, with a 9.16% stake in the seller of fixed line, mobile and Internet services which has made a series of acquisitions since listing on Madrid's index for smaller, growing companies in 2014.
All three funds will end up with an equal stake in MasMovil if the deal goes through, and Providence has agreed not to accept a counter-bid from any other would-be buyer, the offer document said.
The operator's shares soared on the opening and were still the leading gainer on Spain's main index at 1200 GMT, at around 23 euros, some 23% higher than Friday's close.
MasMovil has built up a position in the fiercely competitive Spanish market in recent years by buying lower-cost brands Pepephone and Yoigo. If successful, its sale would follow hot on the heels of Telefonica's deal to merge its British business with Liberty Global's Virgin Media..
European telecoms operators have struggled to boost profit growth in a crowded market and in Spain, Euskaltel has launched a new national service under the Virgin brand to take on Telefonica, France's Orange and Britain's Vodafone as well as MasMovil.
MasMovil Chief Executive Meinrad Spenger said in a statement it had signed an agreement with the bidders on a deal which he said would be "beneficial for the shareholders and other stakeholders in the company".
It added the bidders had said they would maintain continuity in MasMovil's strategy, staff and executive team.
Although the offer price is well below a five-year high of 25.52 euros hit in March 2018 and 23.68 late last year, it still values the company at a premium of around 20% to its closing price on Friday.
MasMovil's shares dropped to 12.20 euros in March when Spain was reporting hundreds of coronavirus deaths each day.
The bid for MasMovil is conditional on acceptance from at least 50% of shareholders, the funds said.
A source familiar with the transaction said telecoms companies already active in Spain may step in and offer a higher premium to take control of MasMovil based on the synergies the deal would unlock.
Yet analysts have cautioned that any interloper would face resistance from Providence.
Goldman Sachs and BNP Paribas advised MasMovil while Morgan Stanley and Barclays represented the private equity consortium and guaranteed financing for the deal along with BNP, two sources close to the deal said.
($1 = 0.8977 euros)
(Reporting by Inti Landauro and Isla Binnie; Additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia; Editing by Ingrid Melander, Alexander Smith and David Evans)