By Sophie Sassard and Greg Roumeliotis
(Reuters) - Altice USA, the cable operator that Netherlands-based Altice NV <ATCA.AS> put together by acquiring Cablevision and Suddenlink Communications, is drawing up plans for a potential initial public offering, according to people familiar with the matter.
The move would allow Altice's founder, French billionaire Patrick Drahi, to expand his budding U.S. cable empire by giving Altice USA public stock it can use as currency to help finance more acquisitions, the people said on Thursday.
Altice USA, which is now valued at between $25 billion and $30 billion, plans to invite investment banks to make presentations in the coming weeks about their role in a potential IPO in New York, the people said.
Based on these pitches, Altice USA may hire IPO underwriters by January, and could go public sometime in 2017, subject to market conditions, the people said. The IPO could raise close to $2 billion, one of the people added.
The IPO plans are preliminary, and Drahi may decide to keep Altice USA private, the people cautioned, asking not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.
"We are focused on execution. We do not plan anything else at this stage," an Altice spokeswoman said.
Altice shares jumped as much as 3.4 percent on the news in Amsterdam, and were up 1.5 percent at 17.15 euros ($18.65) in afternoon trading. Altice, which Drahi built into a telecoms and cable empire through debt-heavy acquisitions in Europe and Israel, entered the U.S. market last year by acquiring regional cable company Suddenlink for $9.1 billion.
A few months later, it extended its reach to 20 U.S. states by snapping up the country's fourth-largest operator, Cablevision, which provides cable and broadband services in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, for $17.7 billion.
Having a U.S. listing would allow Altice, which has accumulated 46 billion euros of debt, to keep expanding rapidly in the country through acquisitions of midsize players that it believes can receive antitrust clearance, the people said.
Altice's U.S. shopping spree follows the purchase of rival French mobile telecommunications firm SFR in 2014, which was financed with $21.9 billion-equivalent in debt, raising concerns among credit rating agencies and analysts.
Taking Altice USA public would also allow its other investors, including private equity firm BC Partners Ltd and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board to cash out in the future. Drahi, who is Altice's controlling shareholder, has no intention of giving up control of Altice USA, one of the people said.
Beyond France and the United States, Altice has operations in Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland, Israel, the French Caribbean and the Dominican Republic.
(Reporting by Sophie Sassard in London and Greg Roumeliotis in New York; Additional reporting by Liana B. Baker in San Francisco; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)