Yet another offer has fallen over for Vocus, the trans-Tasman telco whose NZ assets include Orcon and Slingshot.
Utilities giant AGL Energy said in a pre-market filing that it had walked away from its A$4.85 a share bid, which valued the ASX-listed Vocus at A$3.1 billion ($3.3b). The move came less than a week into due diligence.
Vocus shares, which have rollercoastered this month from A$2.89 to a A$4.36 close yesterday amid takeover developments, fell 30.7 per cent to A$3.02 as the market opened.
"We believe there will be opportunities for AGL as energy and data value streams continue to converge," AGL boss Brett Redman said in a statement, touching on a trend that has seen energy retailers on both sides of the Tasman bundled broadband with power.
"However, we are no longer confident that acquisition of Vocus at the proposed terms would represent sufficient certainty of creating value for AGL shareholders."
It was the fourth bid to fall over in recent times for Vocus, whose New Zealand assets include Orcon, Slingshot, Flip, 2Talk power retailer Switch, data centres and a fibre network.
On June 5, Swedish private equity outfit EQT pulled a A$5.25 bid a week after it started to look at Vocus' books.
And in mid-2017, US private equity companies KKR and Affinity Partners both placed a A$3.50 a share offer for Vocus, but both backed out.
Incredibly, the bout of speed dating might have at least one more round to go.
Market scuttlebutt holds that a fifth suitor could be in the wings: Canadian infrastructure investment company Brookfield - which has already partnered with Infratil in a $3.4b deal for Vodafone's NZ business, still subject to regulatory approval. Any Brookfield involvement in a Vocus bid would complicate that deal.
The whirligig of almost-sale developments also saw Vocus put its NZ assets on the block, only to pull them from sale in early 2018.
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's NZ business aw an 8 per cent increase in underlying earnings to $63m last year on revenue that rose 4 per cent to $364m.
The broad consensus is that after a hiccup as it merged with M2, Vocus' new management has put the company on a sounder footing, with a return to profit growth. But with it still in the early stages of a three-year turnaround plan, and the National Broadband Network (the Aussie equivalent of our UFB) providing challenges for all broadband providers across the Tasman, putting a price tag on the regenerated company is proving tricky, however.