Saskatchewan Deficit Could Be an Opportunity for Telus

Premier Brad Wall is considering everything to help his province plug a projected $1.2-billion deficit, including selling off stakes in Saskatchewan’s crown jewels, its popular government-owned corporations.

The Saskatchewan government owns many different crown corporations, including Sasktel, the province’s leader wired and wireless provider. It also owns SaskGaming (casinos), SaskEnergy (power plants), Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming (alcohol and lottery sales), and Saskatchewan Government Insurance (auto insurance), among others.

These crown corporations are quite popular politically, with many constituents believing they keep costs down versus privately-owned alternatives.

Wall had previously been considering selling Sasktel to a private company, but after consulting with voters he determined it wouldn’t be a popular move. He hasn’t ruled out selling a 49% stake, however. That would allow the province to gain some capital while retaining control of the asset.

A logical buyer of such a stake would be Telus Corporation (TSX:T)(NYSE:TU), which dominates the market in both Alberta and British Columbia. It is also a relatively big player in Saskatchewan, although its market share is dwarfed by Sasktel’s.

Not only does the sale make sense from a geographic perspective, but Telus is feeling some pressure from shareholders to start expanding. Competitors such as BCE (TSX:BCE)(NYSE:BCE) and Shaw Communications (TSX:SJR.B)(NYSE:SJR) have both made big deals in the last 18 months.

Even a 49% stake in Sasktel would attract some serious money. BCE agreed to buy Manitoba Telecom for $3.9 billion. If we assume a similar valuation for Sasktel, we’re looking at a stake worth close to $2 billion.