By Arno Schuetze
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Five buyout firms are expected to bid next week for a stake in Deutsche Telekom's online classified advertising business Scout24, valuing the equity and debt of the whole unit at $2.2-2.3 billion, three sources close to the process said.
However, the auction is proving to be more than just a battle over price, with some bidders hoping the German telecoms firm can be persuaded to sell a larger stake and several unhappy with its proposals on the future funding of Scout24.
Deutsche Telekom wants to sell part of Scout24 - originally seen as a way to compensate for declining earnings at its traditional telecoms business - in order to free up cash for a planned 6 billion euros of investment in broadband in Germany.
The sources said private equity groups Apax, TPG, Hellman&Friedman, EQT and Silver Lake were expected to table offers in the latest round of bidding next week, valuing the whole of Scout24's equity and debt at roughly 1.6-1.7 billion euros ($2.2-2.3 billion).
Final offers are due in early November, they added.
The sources said Deutsche Telekom was looking to sell a 30 percent stake, and that was causing some friction with bidders.
"An investor will have almost nothing to say," an adviser of one of the potential buyers said, adding Deutsche Telekom had rejected offers for 100 percent of Scout24.
The buyout groups are also critical of Deutsche Telekom's plan to grant Scout24 a shareholder loan worth several hundred millions of euros on what they see as unacceptable terms.
"Deutsche Telekom wants a coupon that is 100 basis points higher than the buyers' refinancing costs," one of the sources said.
The buyout groups have made counter-proposals to organize Scout24's financing themselves, but in that case Deutsche Telekom would demand an even higher valuation of Scout24's equity, the sources said.
Terms of shareholders loans have been a sticking point for Deutsche Telekom before.
Earlier this year it had to sweeten the loan terms for its acquisition of U.S. peer MetroPCS, which it merged with its T-Mobile US unit.
Only after cutting the debt load it was planning to transfer to the combined company and after sweetening the loan terms did Deutsche Telekom manage to save that deal.
Deutsche Telekom and three of the buyout groups declined to comment. Silver Lake and Hellman&Friedman were not immediately available for comment.
Separately, German daily Handelsblatt reported on Thursday that Swiss publisher Ringier had made a 200 million Swiss Francs ($220 million) offer for Deutsche Telekom's 50 percent stake in Scout24's Swiss operations.
(Additional reporting by Harro ten Wolde; Editing by Mark Potter)