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Canada’s antitrust tribunal clears C$20 bln Rogers-Shaw deal

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Canada’s antitrust court approved Rogers Communications Inc’s C$20 billion (US$14.77 billion) bid for rival Shaw Communications Inc, ending months of uncertainty over the merger that would create the country’s second-largest telecoms company.

The ruling late Thursday dismissed the competition commissioner’s request to resist the merger, which was seen as a test case for the country’s ability to foster competition in sectors ranging from telecoms to finance.

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Analysts are now counting down the days until the merger officially closes. Rogers and Shaw are awaiting approval from Industry Secretary François-Philippe Champagne to transfer Freedom Mobile Inc.’s spectrum license to Quebecor Inc.’s Videotron unit.

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Champagne indicated in October its intention to approve the sale as long as Videotron holds Freedom Mobile’s assets for at least 10 years and keeps prices in Quebec at current levels, which are 20% lower than Ontario and western Canada.

Canada’s concentrated telecoms market has the highest mobile phone bills in the world for consumers, according to Rewheel, a Finnish telecoms research firm.

Rogers may have to pay bondholders about CA$260 million in approval fees if the deal doesn’t close by Dec. 31, said Adam Shine, a telecoms analyst at the National Bank of Canada.

“It remains to be seen whether the companies can close their deals on Saturday within about two days of the announcement of the tribunal’s decision,” Shine said in a research note, adding that the government will need quick action.

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The two companies and the competition regulator fought before the tribunal after Shaw’s proposal to sell Freedom Mobile to Videotron for CA$2.85 billion to facilitate the deal was rejected by the regulator. The bureau had argued that Quebecor would not be a viable competitor for a merged Rogers-Shaw.

But in its Thursday ruling, the tribunal said the acquisition of Freedom Mobile would allow Videotron to expand into new markets and ensure robust competition.

It also said the Rogers-Shaw merger may not prevent or reduce competition after the sale of Freedom Mobile, or result in “materially higher” prices or a degradation in service quality.

“I am very disappointed that the tribunal is denying our motion to block the Rogers-Shaw merger,” said Matthew Boswell, Commissioner of Competition.

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“We are carefully considering our next steps.”

The Competitions Bureau later confirmed that it was appealing the arbitral tribunal’s decision.

The two companies said they would now seek government approval for the deal, but added that they were disappointed with the Bureau’s decision to appeal.

“The deal will receive all necessary approvals. The appeal from the Competitions Bureau was the biggest hurdle to overcome,” said David McFadgen, analyst at Cormark Securities.

He said there were “significant” revenue synergies for Rogers from the bundling of services, while Quebecor had better growth prospects through the Freedom Mobile deal.

Shaw shares are up nearly 10% on the Toronto Stock Exchange, while Rogers is up more than 4%. Quebecor rose 3% on Friday. ($1 = 1.3544 Canadian Dollars)

(Reporting by Divya Rajagopal, Akriti Sharma and Akash Sriram; Editing by Arun Koyyur, Josie Kao and Anil D’Silva)

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