David Einhorn made the case in his most recent quarterly letter to investors that the market was placing no value on Vodafone’s (NASDAQ:VOD) stake in Verizon Wireless. However, due to the increasing dependence on the wireless business, the Greenlight Capital founder explained it would not be surprising if Verizon Communication’s (NYSE:VZ) decided to buy all of Vodafone to gain total control of Verizon Wireless. “Maybe there is an investment banker with time on their hands reading this letter,” he wrote. The to action has not gone completely unanswered.
Citigroup is now calling for Verizon Communications to purchase the 45 percent of Verizon Wireless is does not already own from Vodafone. Analysts at the bank believe a leveraged deal is possible and would increase Verizon’s earnings and cash almost immediately. A deal would likely place a value of the Vodafone stake between $106 billion and $137 billion, and take between $70 billion and $80 billion in debt to accomplish, according to the WSJ.
Verizon tried to buy Vodafone’s stake in 2006 but failed. Einhorn is not the only person generating interest in another deal. Earlier this year, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam said he would “love to own all of that asset” when referring to Verizon Wireless. Shortly thereafter, Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao said his company has an open mind “on everything.”
Amid the buyout speculation, Citigroup upgraded of Verizon to Buy from Neutral on Monday, and hiked its price target to $54 from $46. In fact, Citigroup notes that Verizon may avoid any capital gains tax on the deal if it is conducted offshore, making the move even more attractive. The bank also upgraded shares of Vodafone to Buy from Neutral.
As the chart above shows, it has been a strong year for the major mobile players. Shares of Verizon have surged more than 12 percent year-to-date, excluding dividends. Meanwhile, Vodafone and AT&T (NYSE:T) shares have gained 10.8 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively. Sprint (NYSE:S) shares have increased 3.5 percent.
Along with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Vodafone is one of Einhorn’s largest positions, and he even added shares in the fourth quarter as the price fell from $29 to $25. With shares trading near $28, this is one hedge-fund piggyback trade that investors still have time to catch. While waiting for a buyout to occur, investors can enjoy a solid dividend yield in an industry that is poised for strength with new products from Apple and Samsung (SSNLF.PK) driving demand.
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