Macquarie's Kevin Smithen has upgraded Level 3 (LVLT +3.5%) to Outperform, and set a $51 target. Merger partner TW Telecom (TWTC +2.7%) is following Level 3 higher.
After talking with management, Smithen thinks Level 3 "has set conservative cost-savings targets" for the merger - the company previously forecast $240M/year in savings. He also considers TW easier to integrate than past acquisitions such as Global Crossing, given its lack of international assets and the fact the company isn't a roll-up of various properties.
He admits there's still "a decent risk" of an integration misstep, but also believes "the risk of not owning [Level 3] if the company executes well is too great."
Windstream's (WIN +22.3%) plans to spin off some of its telecom network assets into a REIT (following a favorable IRS ruling) has lit a fire under U.S. telecom carriers, as investors bet more REIT announcements will happen. Some might also be hoping REIT spinoffs spark additional M&A activity in an industry that has seen plenty of it.
Frontier (FTR +15.8%) and CenturyLink (CTL +8.1%) are also off to the races, and AT&T (T +3.9%), Verizon (VZ +1.9%), and Sprint (S +2%) aren't doing badly either.
Other gainers include Alaska Communications (ALSK +5.2%), TDS (TDS +4.1%), and Lumos Networks (LMOS +5.5%), as well as Level 3 (LVLT +5.9%) and merger partner TW Telecom (TWTC +5.2%). Level 3 posted a Q2 beat this morning.
Windstream's spinoff will feature its fiber/copper networks and other real estate. The company expects to retire $3.2B in debt following the spinoff (expected to close in Q1 2015), and to have the REIT raise $3.5B in debt.
Windstream plans to have an aggregate annual dividend of $0.70/share following the spinoff ($0.60 for the REIT, $0.10 for Windstream proper). That's down from a current $1.00/share.
"TWTC has a very dense fiber metro base, and I think combined with LVLT domestic and international long-haul routes, the company will be able to deliver a new level of fiber connectivity around the world," says Stephens' Barry McCarver, offering an upbeat view of the Level 3 (LVLT -4.1%)/TW Telecom (TWTC +7.3%) deal.
But others on the Street weren't as thrilled about the price, which at announcement time represented a 26% premium to where TW closed on Thursday, before a BrightWire report about Level 3's interest arrived.
Light Reading's Carol Wilson notes the deal significantly boosts Level 3's enterprise/Ethernet reach, and that TW has a stellar reputation. "Twice in the past year I've had executives from tw telecom competitors volunteer the fact that they purposely avoid going head-to-head with that particular service provider."
Level 3 is offering $10 in cash and 0.7 shares for each TW share. The company has already lined up $3B in financing; it had $7.8B in net debt at the end of Q1.
Level 3 expects $240M/year in cost synergies ($200M adjusted EBITDA, $40M capex), and sees $170M in integration costs. TW shareholders will own 29% of the merged company. TW CEO Larissa Herda will be stepping down once the deal closes in Q4.
TW (current market cap of $4.5B) has a large nationwide fiber network (connects 20K+ commercial buildings) that would bolster Level 3's own network, and bills itself of the top 3 U.S. business Ethernet providers. Both companies are based out of Colorado.
BrightWire states Level 3 was also interested in TW back in 2012, when the company (per reports) hired Evercore to explore its options. But Level 3 is in much better shape today to make a bid.
Speculation that Level 3 could bid for TW has been around for a while.
tw telecom (TWTC +1.1%) completes a tender offer for outstanding 8% Senior Notes due 2018. The company purchased $406M of notes at $1,077.79/$1,000 plus accrued interest. $23.5M in notes remain outstanding.