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Level 3 ready to resume hunt for acquisitions

The Denver Post

By Andy Vuong
February 11, 2010

More than two years removed from a spending spree that netted eight companies, Broomfield-based Level 3 Communications is looking to jump back into the acquisition fray in 2010, chief financial officer Sunit Patel said Wednesday.

From late 2005 to mid-2007, the fiber-optic-network operator spent roughly $4 billion rolling up firms ranging from smaller peer Broadwing to Internet broadcaster Servecast.

"We believe that the industry will see more consolidation or M&A activity going forward," Patel said. "We will continue to take a look at opportunities for consolidation or acquisitions. Anything we do will be similar to the kinds of things we've done in the past."

UBS analyst John Hodulik noted in January that Level 3 could return to acquisition mode after refinancing bonds this year that had included stringent covenants.

Level 3 plans to grow its large-enterprise and federal-government business, Patel said.

One way to boost that segment would be to acquire Qwest Communications' fiber-optic network and its Networx business, which is part of a multibillion- dollar program to upgrade communications systems for as many as 135 government agencies. Qwest shopped the network last year, and Level 3 had been mentioned as a potential buyer.

Also Wednesday, Level 3 said it posted a net loss of $618 million, or 38 cents a share, for 2009, nearly double its loss from 2008, which had included a one- time gain of $237 million from the sale of a distribution business.

Level 3 shares dropped 8 percent to close at $1.27 Wednesday.

Patel said Level 3 will boost its capital expenditures this year. The company expects operational expenses to also increase as it boosts its sales force and support staff.

JP Morgan analyst Mike McCormack said he was cautious about Level 3's plans to ramp up spending, "though the actions could position the company well for an economic rebound."

Andy Vuong: 303-954-1209 or avuong@denverpost.com