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America Movil acquires Nextel in Brazil for $905M

Latin America continues to remain a focus for investors that are eyeing up its large population and growth potential. In the latest development, America Movil, the Latin American carrier that is part of the Carlos Slim empire, today announced that it would acquire Nextel in Brazil, owned by NII (formerly Nextel International), for $905 million. NII in turn said that once the deal is closed, it has received approval “to dissolve and wind up NII.”

This is a move to scale up an existing carrier in competition with existing large players like Telefonica (which co-owns Vivo with Portugal Telecom), Telecom Italia and Oi (owned by Telemar). America Movil already has an operation in the country, Claro, which it plans to merge with Nextel to “consolidate its position as one of the leading telecommunication service providers in Brazil, strengthening its mobile network capacity, spectrum portfolio, subscriber base, coverage and quality, particularly in the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the main markets in Brazil.”

America Movil — based out of Mexico — has been on a consolidation spree, swallowing up other smaller holdings in a variety of markets in the region. In January, it acquired Telefonica’s assets in Guatemala and El Salvador respectively for $333 million and $315 million.

The Nextel Brazil deal will include buying a 70 percent stake in the carrier from NII, as well as a remaining 30 percent stake from AI Brazil Holdings BV, NII said today. AI Brazil Holdings is controlled by Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, the company that owns Warner Music, Deezer and a number of other assets and investments. It had reportedly also been interested in increasing its share in the carrier, before agreeing to sell its stake altogether.

The acquisition is the final chapter for the struggling business, which had originally been the international division of Nextel but had spun out as a separate company before Sprint acquired Nextel in the US in 2005. NII’s focus had been mobile carrier operations across a range of developing markets but it struggled and had been through multiple bankruptcy processes.

“The announcement of this transaction marks the culmination of an extensive multi-year process to pursue a strategic path for Nextel Brazil and provides our best opportunity to monetize our remaining operating assets in light of the competitive landscape in Brazil and long-term need to raise significant capital to fund business operations, debt service and capital expenditures necessary to remain competitive in the future,” stated Dan Freiman, NII’s Chief Financial Officer, in a statement. “Management and our Board of Directors believe the transaction is in the best interest of NII’s stockholders.”

The deal represents a final chapter of sorts for the Nextel brand, which had been a trailblazer in the mobile market through its push-to-talk, walkie-talkie-style mobile service. This was was an early mover in the bigger wave of messaging services that competed with basic carrier SMS, and some came to think of it as the first mobile social network. Over time, though, the iDEN digital network that carried the service became outmoded and most carriers that offered iDEN-based services (including Nextel) discontinued them to focus on 3G and subsequent mobile technologies.

More generally, the acquisition underscores how a number of investors, willing to ride the waves of economic and political ups and downs in Latin America, continue to view the growth opportunities in the region.

NII — which is based out of Reston, VA — was traded on Nasdaq and had a market cap as of last market close, of just $322 million. The company currently has 3.3 million subscribers. But while it was reportedly looking for a buyer of the business in Brazil, its last remaining asset, for some time, this final price — at nearly three times its market cap — is a sign of how some might see locked up value in Nextel Brazil that exceeded all that.

Last week, Paypal and Dragoneer collectively committed $850 million towards MercadoLibre, a marketplace in Argentina. The week before that, SoftBank announced that it would set up a new $2 billion fund to invest in tech companies out of the region, and to help existing portfolio companies to expand there. (By coincidence, the SoftBank venture will be led by Marcelo Claure, who is also executive chairman of Sprint, which swallowed up the US part of Nextel years ago and eventually got acquired by SoftBank.)

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