Hong Kong business tycoon Li Ka-Shing's Hutchison Whampoa announced Friday that it is involved in “exclusive negotiations” with Spanish broadband and telecommunications provider Telefónica to buy its British mobile unit O2 UK for up to 10.25 billion pounds ($15.4 billion).
Hutchison, which already operates the Three Mobile network in Britain, confirmed in a statement Friday that it has been in talks with Telefónica for several weeks over the potential acquisition of O2 for 9.25 billion pounds, with a further payment of 1 billion pounds in “interest sharing payments” after the combined businesses reach their mutually agreed cash flow targets. If successful, the deal will combine Hutchison’s Three Mobile and O2 to create Britain’s largest mobile operator with a subscriber base of 31 million users.
“The transaction remains subject to satisfactory due diligence over O2 UK, agreement on terms and signing of definitive agreements, and obtaining required corporate and regulatory approvals. The negotiations may or may not result in any transaction,” Hutchison said, in the statement.
Proceeds from the deal are also expected to help Telefónica reduce debt, which more than doubled in the decade through September last year, Bloomberg reported, adding that the buyout of O2 in 2006 for 17.7 billion pounds was the company’s most expensive acquisition on record.
According to industry observers, Hutchison has been exploring other options to expand its presence in Europe.
“They are looking for businesses that offer steady and reliable return,” Ben Kwong, a director at Hong Kong-based brokerage KGI Asia, told Bloomberg. “They are finding now that there are a lot of opportunities overseas, where asset prices are low with the economy not doing well.”
According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, as of April 16, 2014, Li was the richest person in Asia, with a net worth of $31.9 billion. On Friday, Hutchison Whampoa's stock on the Hong Kong stock exchange was trading up 2.54 percent.