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Crown Castle to Lease/Purchase Towers from AT&T

HOUSTON, Oct. 20, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Crown Castle International Corp. (NYSE:CCI) announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement pursuant to which Crown Castle will acquire rights to approximately 9,700 AT&T towers for $4.85 billion in cash at closing (subject to certain limited adjustments). Under the definitive agreement, Crown Castle will have the exclusive right to lease and operate the AT&T towers for a weighted average term of approximately 28 years. In addition, Crown Castle will have the option to purchase the towers at the end of the respective lease terms for aggregate option payments of approximately $4.2 billion, which payments, if exercised, would be primarily between 2032 and 2048.

“We are very pleased with our agreement with AT&T, which strengthens our position as the largest provider of shared wireless infrastructure in the US, which we believe is the largest, fastest growing and most profitable wireless market in the world,” stated Ben Moreland, Crown Castle’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Consistent with our focus on the top 100 U.S. markets, nearly half of the AT&T towers are located in the top 50 markets, where we expect the majority of network densification and upgrade activity to occur.

“With an average of only 1.7 existing tenants per site, we expect the AT&T tower assets to provide significant growth opportunities driven by the continued consumer demand for wireless data services. While this transaction increases our tower count by approximately 33%, the transaction consideration represents only approximately 15% of our enterprise value. Additionally, we believe this transaction strengthens the credit quality of our revenue, with pro forma 84% of our consolidated site rental revenue coming from the Big 4 US wireless carriers. Further, we expect the impact from the contemplated transaction and related financings to be slightly accretive to our 2014 adjusted funds from operations per share and 5% accretive to our long-term adjusted funds from operations per share,” he added.

AT&T has contracted to maintain its communications facilities on the towers for a minimum of 10 years with monthly rent of $1,900 per site and fixed annual rent escalators of 2%. AT&T will also have access to additional space on the towers for its future use, subject to certain restrictions. Crown Castle will have the right to sublease other available capacity on the towers to additional tenants and believes the AT&T towers have sufficient capacity to accommodate at least one additional tenant per tower.

Crown Castle estimates the AT&T towers will contribute approximately $245 million to $255 million to its Adjusted Funds from Operations (“AFFO”) before financing costs in 2014. Crown Castle expects to fund the transaction with cash on hand and equity and debt financing, including borrowings under its revolving credit facility. Following the contemplated transaction, Crown Castle will continue to be the largest wireless infrastructure operator in the US with approximately 40,000 towers throughout the US and extensive small cell operations in over 50 markets. The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2013, subject to customary closing conditions.

Crown Castle has scheduled a conference call for Monday, October 21, 2013 at 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time to discuss the transaction, as well as its third quarter 2013 results. Crown Castle plans to release its third quarter 2013 results on Monday, October 21, 2013, at 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time. The conference call may be accessed by dialing 480-629-9722 and asking for the Crown Castle call at least 30 minutes prior to the start time. The conference call may also be accessed live over the Internet at http://investor.crowncastle.com. Any supplemental materials for the call will be posted on the Crown Castle website at http://investor.crowncastle.com.

A telephonic replay of the conference call will be available from 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, October 21, 2013 through 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, October 28, 2013 and may be accessed by dialing 303-590-3030 using access code 4644535. An audio archive will also be available on the company’s website at http://investor.crowncastle.com shortly after the call and will be accessible for approximately 90 days.

Crown Castle is being advised by Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP as legal advisor.

Another Rumor Heralds AT&T Tower Sale

The sale of AT&T’s towers was predicted Jonathan Atkin, RBC Capital Markets last spring.  The drums are again beating for a sale, according to Bloomberg, which reported that TAP Advisors and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are working on the sale.

The sale of the AT&T’s towers is an obvious way for the carrier to raise cash to fund its network upgrades, said to have a price tag of $14 billion.

In March, Atkin estimated that a deal could bring in mid-$5 billion or more for AT&T’s assets which include 14,500 sites, assuming roughly $400,000 per site. The portfolio includes 10,500 wireless tower sites plus additional assets such as wireline towers, distributed antennas systems and other infrastructure.

“We believe the AT&T towers and related assets have a tenancy level of >1.5 and could generate total cash flow in the low- to mid-$200 million range, although this depends on the specifics associated with the potential sales/leaseback terms,” Atkin wrote in March. Other analysts put the cash generated by the towers at more than $326 million in annual revenues.

Possible buyers are probably limited to Crown Castle International, SBA Communications and American Tower, which just purchased Global Tower Partners for $4.8 billion and NII Holdings’ 2,790 towers in Brazil and 1,666 towers in Mexico for $413 million and $398 million, respectively. SBA Communications expanded operations in Brazil with 2,113 towers to the tune of $302.6 million in July and 800 towers for $362.8 million in December 2012.

Because of those acquisitions, Jennifer Fritzsche, Wells Fargo senior analyst, said SBAC and American Towers are too heavily leveraged or otherwise too busy at this time to purchase the AT&T towers. That leaves Crown Castle as the logical buyer, according to Fritzsche. It has been almost a year since Crown Castle purchased T-Mobile’s portfolio of 7,180 towers for $2.4 billion.