By Ambar Warrick and Aditya Soni
May 27 (Reuters) - Australia'sVocus Group has received a $2.3 billion buyout offer from Swedish private-equity firm EQT Infrastructure, nearly two years after two suitors walked away from the telco, driving its shares up by their most in nearly nine years on Monday.
The A$3.27 billion offer comes as Vocus undertakes a turnaround plan aimed at cutting its debt load by selling assets, while also preparing for the advent of next-generation mobile networks in Australia. It has already struck a five-year deal that will give it access to larger rival Optus' 5G network.
"It is a very generous price especially considering the history Vocus has had and the space has not actually changed very much in the last couple of years," said Henry Jennings, a senior investment analyst at Marcus Today newsletter.
In 2017, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co and Affinity Equity Partners pulled bids for Vocus, at a time when the sector faced headwinds from the rollout of the government-owned National Broadband Network NBN (graphic).
Vocus is currently being sued by shareholders who allege it engaged in deceptive conduct and breached stock market disclosure obligations regarding earnings guidance in 2017. Vocus has said it intends to defend itself.
The Australian firm said it would grant non-exclusive due diligence access to EQT to allow the company to potentially put forward a formal binding proposal.
EQT was not immediately available for a comment.
Shares of the telco jumped as much as 26 percent on news of the offer, their biggest daily rise since July 2010, in a broader market that was largely flat.
The wider sector is also seeing signs of consolidation ahead of a 5G rollout, with majors TPG Telecom and Vodafone's local business vying for a merger, despite the deal being blocked by Australia's competition regulator.
"There has been some optimism in the sector that we will see a bit of a kick from 5G," Marcus Today's Jennings added.
($1 = 1.4428 Australian dollars)