March 18, 2008 / 1:21 AM / in 10 years

Teachers' talks often to banks on BCE: CEO

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which is heading a consortium buying Canadian telecommunications giant BCE Inc (BCE.TO), is in regular talks with the banks funding the C$34.8 billion ($34.8 billion) deal, the fund’s head said on Monday.

“We are in close contact,” Teachers’ Chief Executive Jim Leech said in an interview with Reuters. He declined to give further details.

Shares in BCE remain well below the C$42.75 price that Teachers’ and its U.S. private-equity partners, Providence Equity Partners Inc and Madison Dearborn Partners, are offering for the Montreal-based company on concerns that the transaction could be delayed, re-priced or scrapped.

The shares closed at C$36.50 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Monday, down 74 Canadian cents amid a broad-based selloff.

A major risk facing the takeover is funding as some investors worry the deal could collapse or be altered -- like several other debt-funded transactions have been -- because of ongoing turbulence in world credit markets and the impact this is having on banks’ balance sheets.

The banks that have committed to providing debt finance to the Teachers’ consortium include Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO), Citigroup Inc (C.N), Deutsche Bank AG (DBKGn.DE) and Royal Bank of Scotland Plc (RBS.L). TD has said several times that it is comfortable with its exposure to the deal, but the other banks have been quiet.

Also hanging over the BCE deal is a ruling from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the federal communications watchdog.

Leech said Teachers’, Canada’s third largest pension fund, is working hard to satisfy all the conditions of the BCE deal so that it can move toward closing the transaction.

“It is one investment that we are endeavoring to close. We are working on the conditions. Once the conditions are satisfied, we will move to closing,” said Leech, who took over as head of Teachers’ on December 1.

Turning to the turmoil in global financial markets, Leech said it was driven by perception rather than reality.

“My sense is that it is largely driven by fear... By fear I mean a questioning of confidence... What it takes to get that confidence back is time and people getting back to the cold hard facts of what the underlying real asset impairment is,” he said.

Leech declined to say if Teachers’ was interested in buying U.S. insurer AIG’s (AIG.N) 50 percent stake in power generator Intergen but said the power sector was attractive.

“We certainly have earmarked that the power area is one that we like in our infrastructure portfolio and we have supported Intergen in the past as it expands, and we will continue to do that,” he said.

Sources told Reuters last week that AIG’s holding in Intergen, which operates nine power plants in Europe, Asia, Mexico and Australia, could be for sale. Teachers’ owns the remaining 50 percent of Intergen.

Leech also said the fund was interested in airports “as an asset class.” Last year, Teachers’ bought a stake in England’s Birmingham International Airport and plans to bid for a stake in the Czech Republic’s Prague Airport together with Aeroports de Paris.

($1=$1.00 Canadian)

Editing by Rob Wilson

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