Here we go again. Vocus is officially in play for the fourth time within 24 months.
Australian utilities giant AGL Energy has lodged a A$4.85-a-share non-binding bid for the ASX-listed telecommunications company, valuing it at A$3.1 billion ($3.3b).
The bid comes just days after Swedish private equity player EQT dropped its $5.25-a-share/A$3.4b offer, only a week into due diligence.
No detail was provided, but industry scuttlebutt holds that after examining Vocus' books, EQT wanted to lower its offer to A$5/share.
AGL will now begin due diligence aware of rumours that yet another suitor, Canadian infrastructure investment company Brookfield, is also mulling a bid (Brookfield has already partnered with Infratil in a $3.4b deal for Vodafone's NZ business, still subject to regulatory approval - which any Brookfield involvement in a Vocus bid would complicate).
If AGL's bid does succeed, it will be a case of fourth time's the charm.
In mid-2017, US private equity outfits KKR and Affinity Partners both offered A$3.50 a share for Vocus.
The twin offers were rejected by Vocus' board, but the company did put its NZ assets - including Orcon, Slingshot, Flip 2Talk, power retailer Switch, data centres and the fibre network it bought from FX Networks - on the block, only for a new chairman and CEO to pull them from the market in early 2018.
With EQT's bid, there was renewed speculation that Vocus' NZ assets could be carved off in the classic manner of a private equity play.
AGL, however, could be more likely to hold the family together, especially given the fad to bundle broadband and power that has driven Trustpower's growth on this side of the Tasman.
Pundits say regulatory pressure means AGL has limited room for growth in its core electricity and gas markets. Its new chief executive Brett Redman is under pressure to diversify.
Vocus NZ has around 200,000 customers, making it the third largest broadband provider after Spark (680,000) and Vodafone (430,000) and twice the size of Infratil-controlled Trustpower and 2degrees in the landline market.
Since the abandoned 2018 sale, Vocus NZ chief executive Mark Callander has gained influence in the group, becoming an executive director and adding the role of CEO of the telco's wholesale operation in Australia to his duties running the NZ operation.
Vocus said its New Zealand business had an 8 per cent increase in underlying earnings to $63m last year on revenue that rose 4 per cent to $364m.
Vocus' shares have broadly gained over the past year as new management has increased profits, though with yo-yo-ing over the past fortnight as bids have come and gone.
Yesterday, the stock spiked 13 per cent to $4.17 on news of EQL's bid.