c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
Verizon Communications neared a deal on Sunday to buy the 45 percent stake in its wireless business held by Vodafone of Britain for about $130 billion, people briefed on the matter said, potentially completing a corporate breakup over a decade in the making.
The boards of both companies were scheduled to meet beginning Sunday to approve the transaction, with an announcement coming as soon as Monday. Last-minute snags could still derail a deal, these people said. Representatives for Verizon and Vodafone declined to comment or weren’t immediately available for comment.
If struck, a deal would give Verizon full control over Verizon Wireless, America’s biggest cellphone service operator.
It would be the third-biggest takeover of all time, according to data from Thomson Reuters, trailing only Vodafone’s purchase of Mannesmann in 2000 and AOL’s union with Time Warner the next year.
A transaction would unwind a partnership that stretches back 14 years, when Vodafone first agreed to form an American wireless provider with one of Verizon’s predecessors.
Since then, Verizon has grown tremendously, spearheading a long stretch of consolidation within the telecommunications industry alongside its archrival AT&T. Should Verizon buy complete control of the business, it would fully benefit from the money the cellphone unit generates: for fiscal 2012, Verizon Wireless reported $75.9 billion in revenue and had an operating income margin of 28.7 percent.
Verizon and Vodafone have held talks over the past several years about unwinding the Verizon Wireless joint venture, but those discussions had frequently fallen apart over issues like price. In recent months, however, the two companies had managed to resolve many of their differences.
The deal would involve breathtaking amounts of financing, including over $60 billion worth of bonds and loans arranged by an army of big banks.
For Vodafone, the multibillion-dollar deal would provide a much-needed injection of cash to help rejuvenate its European business.
Despite holding a strong presence in many European markets, including Germany and Britain, the telecom giant has suffered from sagging sales and increased competition from international rivals, including Carlos Slim Helú‘s América Móvil, which are expanding across the Continent.
Analysts said Vodafone, which is the world’s second-largest telecom company behind China Mobile, could use the proceeds from disposing of its Verizon Wireless holding to buy smaller telecom companies or cable operators to offer extra services like high-speed mobile broadband to its current offerings.
Vodafone already has expanded its presence in Germany after agreeing to buy the domestic cable operator Kabel Deutschland this year for $10.1 billion, and potential targets may include John C. Malone’s Liberty Global, which is scooping up assets across Europe.
“A move for Liberty would offer Vodafone a decent footprint in cable to overlap with its mobile assets,” said Paul Marsch, a telecom analyst at Berenberg Bank in London. “It also could look at companies like Fastweb in Italy.”
Any further acquisitions also would most likely be in conjunction with share buybacks, as Vodafone investors clamor for a slice of the multibillion-dollar cash windfall. The British company’s share price has slumped around 40 percent since it created the joint venture of Verizon Wireless in 1999, and shareholders are eager to profit from the disposal, as Vodafone will lose billions of dollars of dividends that it has received through the American partnership with Verizon.