(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Mon, Oct 3rd c 2022) London, Uk – –
A combined Vodafone and Three UK would become the largest mobile telecoms supplier in Britain, with a deal potentially being struck by the end of the year, Sky News learns.
Vodafone and the owner of Three UK have accelerated talks about a deal to combine their British operations, paving the way for the creation of the industry’s mobile phone industry’s biggest player by customer numbers.
Sky News has learnt that Vodafone and CK Hutchison are hopeful of striking an agreement by the end of the year to establish a joint venture or other form of business combination.
People close to the talks said the discussions had intensified in recent weeks following a period in which they were thought to have stalled.
CK Hutchison, the Hong Kong-based conglomerate, has been exploring a sale of Three UK for some time, having concluded that the operation – which has 9m customers – was sub-scale in a sector which carries huge capital investment requirements for developing network infrastructure.
It is said to have decided that a deal with Vodafone represents its best opportunity to help it play a role in market consolidation, with the latter's chief executive, Nick Read, under pressure form shareholders to revive its flagging share price.
Insiders said on Monday that discussions between the two companies were now at a “relatively advanced” stage, although several significant hurdles remained outstanding and there was no certainty that a deal would ultimately be reached.
The most imposing of these is likely to be the regulatory scrutiny that a deal would face both from Ofcom, the telecoms industry regulator, and the Competition and Markets Authority.
Ofcom, meanwhile, has hinted at a softer approach to consolidation among the UK's leading mobile networks.
A deal would create a market-leading business, with roughly 27 million customer connections.
That would be larger than Virgin Media O2, which boasted 24 million retail connections in July, and EE, which is owned by BT Group and has approximately 20 million customers.
Industry chiefs have ben calling for regulators to allow the consolidation of the UK industry from four major networks – EE, O2, Three UK and Vodafone – to just three, a move that would stoke concerns among consumer groups of price hikes during a huge squeeze on Britons' cost-of-living.
Market sources say CK Hutchison has indicated during deal-related talks that it was seeking a valuation for Three UK of roughly £6bn, although that pre-dated the sale of some mobile towers assets, so it was unclear if that figure remained current.
One industry analyst speculated on Monday that the value of the combined Vodafone-Three UK business could be in the region of £12bn-£15bn.
In recent months, doubts have intensified about Mr Read's long-term position after a number of prominent investors acquired stakes in Vodafone.
The most recent of these was Xazier Niel, the French billionaire, who disclosed that he had built a 2.5% stake in the company.
Mr Niel said in an accompanying statement that he believed there were “opportunities to accelerate…the streamlining of Vodafone's footprint”.
Cevian Capital, a major European activist investor, emerged as a Vodafone shareholder last year, while state-controlled Emirates Telecommunications Group, acquired almost 10% of the FTSE-100 company in May.
On Monday morning, shares in Vodafone were trading at just over 100p, giving the company a market capitalisation of about £30bn.
Its stock has fallen by 10% during the past year.
Vodafone and Three UK both declined to comment.