Vodafone, Verizon in $130-B mega-deal

The deal also marks the group's exit from the United States market and injects several billion euros into the British economy

MERGED. A picture taken on September 2, 2013 in Paris, shows an illustration made with the logo for Verizon Wireless and the logo of mobile network provider Vodafone. AFP / Lionel Bonaventure

LONDON, United Kingdom – US telecoms giant Verizon and Vodafone announced Monday, September 2, they had agreed the British company would sell out its 45-percent stake in their joint venture Verizon Wireless for $130 billion (99 billion euros).

The blockbuster deal — which would be one of the biggest transactions in corporate history — would allow Vodafone to bounce back from hefty losses, pay down debt, make new acquisitions and return money to shareholders, according to analysts.

The deal also marks the group’s exit from the United States market and injects several billion euros into the British economy that is struggling to lift out of the doldrums.

The company’s share price jumped 3.59% Monday to close at 213.65 pence before the announcement the deal had been concluded, while London’s FTSE 100 index rose 1.54% overall.

Vodafone had earlier confirmed talks were advanced.

Verizon said it will pay Vodafone $58.9 billion in cash and issue common stock currently valued at approximately $60.2 billion, with other items accounting for the balance.

Vodafone said that it would return $84 billion of the funds it receives back to shareholders and plough over $9 billion into organic investments over the next three years to improve its networks and services.

It said shareholders would receive all Verizon shares and nearly 24 billion in cash “totaling US$84.0 billion, equivalent to 112p per share and representing 71% of the net proceeds” from the transaction.

Major shareholder Standard Life welcomed the sale, with investment director Andrew Millington telling the Financial Times it would leave Vodafone with “control over a greater proportion of its cash flow, a strengthened balance sheet, and the opportunity to return a large amount of capital to shareholders.”

Vodafone Group Chairman Gerard Kleisterlee said the company’s investment in Verizon Wireless has created a great deal of value for shareholders and “Verizon’s offer now provides us with an opportunity to realize this value at an attractive price.”

He added the “transaction will position Vodafone strongly to pursue our leadership strategy in mobile and unified communication services for consumers and enterprises both in our developed markets and across our emerging markets businesses.”

Second biggest M&A deal

The gigantic buyout will be the second-biggest merger and acquisition deal in global corporate history, according to data firm Dealogic. The world’s biggest M&A deal remains Vodafone’s purchase of Germany’s Mannesmann for $172 billion including debt, in 1999.

The deal would be so big that some analysts said the effect on the British economy would be as great as the hundreds of billions of pounds injected into the British economy since 2009 by the central bank, the Bank of England.

The Verizon Wireless transaction will give US fixed-line company Verizon full control after 13 years of shared ownership.

Atif Latif, director of trading at Guardian Stockbrokers in London, said the deal would create a cash pot to fund acquisitions in Europe.

“With this news we could see more acquisitions within Europe to give then a foothold back into markets where they have fallen behind in recent times,” Latif told AFP.

Vodafone’s statement did not mention any acquisitions, but promised to increase the 2014 dividend by 8% to 11 pence and said that it intends to keep increasing it thereafter.

Latif noted that the potential tax bill would likely be less than expected.

In May, Vodafone revealed that annual net profits had slumped by 90% after taking a vast impairment charge relating to poor business in debt-laden eurozone nations Italy and Spain.

Profit after taxation collapsed to £673 million in the group’s financial year to the end of March compared with £7.0 billion in 2011-2012.

Since then it has announced rising first-quarter sales, as strength in emerging markets such as in Africa and Asia counters weakness in Europe.

In June, Vodafone launched a 7.7-billion-euro cash offer for Kabel Deutschland, Germany’s biggest cable operator.

Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s both lowered their credit ratings for Verizon because it is taking on about $67 billion of new debt to finance the purchase and will take its overall debt load to $116 billion.

Moody’s warned that “…even if Verizon uses all of its free cash flow to reduce debt (as expected), debt balances will still be over $120 billion (Moody’s adjusted) at the end of 2015.” – Rappler.com

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