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Court Ruling Threatens BCE Buyout

Shares of Canada's largest telecom company BCE (BCE) fell Monday after a Quebec court ruling threatened its proposed $35 billion leveraged buyout deal.

A decision released late yesterday sided with a group of bondholders who say the planned buyout by the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, Merrill Lynch (MER), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD) and private-equity firms Providence Equity Partners and Madison Dearborn Partners is unfair to them, as it would benefit shareholders at their expense without giving them anything in return.

BCE shares were recently down $4.92, or 13.01%, to $32.91 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Quebec ruling sent the case back to the lower court, which had rejected the bondholders' claims in a March decision.

The deal also faces financing difficulties. The New York Times reported Monday that banks financing the deal were scrambling to renegotiate a privatization deal for BCE, Canada's largest telecom operator and owner of Bell Canada.

The banks are pushing for new terms that include higher interest rates and tighter restrictions, signs the buyers say show the banks are unwilling to fund the deal, according to the report.

If the financing on the BCE deal were to be reworked, it would become the latest in a string of buyouts that were altered or scrapped following the credit crunch that led to tighter lending practices from financiers. Deals in place to take United Rentals (URI), PHH (PHH) and Sallie Mae (SLM) private were scuttled due to financing problems.

More recently, a leveraged buyout for radio operator Cumulus Media (CMLS) was dumped Monday after buyers failed to agree on terms for the deal.

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