Private Equity Reportedly Circles Alltel

The Wall Street Journal reported that private equity firms might be looking to buy the wireless operator

Alltel Corp. (AT) shares rose on Dec. 29 after an article suggested that private equity firms might be circling the wireless operator as a potential takeover target.

"Wall Street is buzzing about a possible deal and private-equity shops are already exploring the idea," the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The newspaper noted that Alltel has a market value of $21.7 billion and a debt load of just under $3 billion. Meanwhile, the company is a pure cellphone operator, having recently spun off its slow-growing landline division, and it has low debt relative to other telecom carriers.

Among the potential strategic buyers of Alltel are the telecom Sprint Nextel Corp. and the cellphone giant Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications (VZ) and Vodafone Group PLC (VOD), the WSJ said.

Alltel's stock gained 3.7% to $60.47 in early trading on Dec. 29.

Verizon declined comment. Sprint and Alltel did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.

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