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Macquarie Buys National Grid Wireless for $4.9 Billion

Australia's Macquarie Bank has agreed to buy the U.K. broadcast and mobile phone mast business of British energy network operator National Grid for 2.5 billion pounds (US$4.9 billion) in cash.

National Grid, which had been looking to demerge the unit to focus on its core gas and electricity transmission operations, said on Tuesday it planned to return 1.8 billion pounds of the proceeds to investors by buying back shares.

Macquarie already owns a high proportion of the UK's transmission masts through its Arqiva business.

An Arqiva spokesman said it was too early to comment on job losses. "There will be some rationalization," he said. "There's a considerable amount of duplication of field operations. We're currently sending two sets of vans up to transmitters on the same hilltop."

But he said staff could retrain to take advantage of future expansion into digital services. "There's a huge task to be done with the digital switch-over, which should keep us busy for the next 5 or 6 years," he said.

The deal is expected to close later on Tuesday, after which the National Grid business will be held in a separate company, Macquarie UK Broadcast Ventures, pending approval of the deal by competition regulators.

"This is a completed sale, so if there are any regulatory discussions that is for Arqiva and Macquarie," said National Grid Chief Executive Steve Holliday.

A source close to the matter told Reuters last week that Macquarie was one of six firms set to make second-round offers for National Grid's broadcast and mobile phone masts business, with bids then expected to be pitched at about 2 billion pounds.

One London analyst said the price looked good at 19 times last year's earnings and ahead of an average forecast of 2.2 billion pounds. "It's a decent price, but not a blowout price," he added.

National Grid, which runs 4,500 miles (7,240 km) of power lines and 4,300 miles of gas pipelines in the UK, said it expected the deal to boost earnings per share immediately.

The group also said it was progressing the sale of its much smaller U.S. Wireless business. "This represents a significant step in our strategy of focusing on the UK and U.S. electricity and gas markets," said Holliday.

He said the group would review its balance sheet after it had disposed of its Basslink electricity interconnector in Australia, and after it had completed the $11.7 billion acquisition of New York-based energy firm KeySpan. "When we close those, we'll look again at the balance sheet and where's the appropriate debt ratios," he added.