Argus sells Aster City stake to Hicks Muse

Hicks Muse (Europe) has completed its second buyout of a consortium partner in the Polish cable TV operator.

Argus Capital Partners has sold its 21 percent stake in Aster City Cable, one of Poland’s largest cable TV and broadband operators, to co-investor Hicks Muse (Europe) for an undisclosed sum.

The sale represents a return of three times Argus’ original investment, generating an IRR of almost 90 percent, according to the firm.

The transaction is the second buyout of a co-investor’s stake by Hicks Muse. In November last year Emerging Markets Partnership (EMP) sold its 39 percent stake in Aster to Hicks Muse for an undisclosed sum. Hicks Muse now owns just under 100 percent of the company, with management retaining a small stake.

The consortium of Hicks Muse, EMP and Argus acquired Aster City for a consideration of €110 million ($144 million) in March 2003. EMP also reported a three times return on its investment following its sale to Hicks Muse in November.

The sale to Hicks Muse is the fourth time Argus has returned capital to its investors in the last 12 months. In August 2004, the firm sold its stake in Hungarian cable TV company FiberNet to Warburg Pincus for $72 million. The firm has also completed two recapitalisations of portfolio companies Svoboda and Palace Cinemas, returning almost 70 percent of cash invested to LPs.

Ali Artunkal, managing partner of Argus, said the firm’s exits and realisations demonstrated that “there is currently an attractive exit climate for the right companies in Central and Eastern Europe.”

Argus made the Aster investment from its first Central European private equity fund, which closed in September 2000 with commitments of $172 million. The fund has invested in ten companies across the region and is approximately 85 percent invested at this stage.

Aster City is one of the largest Polish cable TV and broadband operators, serving over 350,000 subscribers in Warsaw, Krakow and Zielona Gora. The company provides analogue and premium digital cable TV services as well as broadband Internet and telephony.