Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), the largest mobile services provider in the U.S., is close to buying the 45 percent of Verizon Wireless it doesn't already own. The deal could be valued at about $115 billion for Vodafone Group PLC (LON:VOD).
Shares of Newbury, U.K.-based Vodafone, the world's second-largest mobile phone operator, rose more than three percent in London on news it may sell its 45 percent stake in the venture.
A deal could come as early as this summer, according to a report in the Sunday Times of London, which cited “investors as well ad industry and banking sources.”
Investors seem to like the idea of Vodafone bailing out of its U.S. operations, partly because Vodafone would get a massive influx of cash that it could use to expand its European operations.
For its part, Verizon would gain full control of Verizon Wireless – albeit at a cost that could be as high as $135 billion -- including a $20 billion tax bill.
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Vodafone has been trying to get rid of holdings it doesn’t completely control, and its options vis-à-vis its shared control over Verizon Wireless has been to reluctantly maintain the status quo or sell everything to Verizon, which would be one of the largest corporate transactions in memory.
Despite some concern over Vodafone exiting the lucrative U.S. market, it seems as eager as both companies are to see a deal go through.
Vodafone’s Chief Executive Vittorio Colao, who has been at the helm of the company for five years, is likely eager to settle the matter. The Italian executive, who passed up an offer in 2007 to head Telecom Italia S.p.A. (BIT:TIT) and a year later replaced the Indian executive Arun Sarin as head of Vodafone, has made streamlining operations while aggressively expanding the company’s global presence top priorities.
"Is [a Verizon stake sale] good for Vodafone shareholders? Short term, undoubtedly yes," the manager of one of Vodafone’s largest investors, told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.
"Long term it remains unclear. Verizon Wireless is their best asset, and without it Vodafone is essentially operating in an industry with structural decline, a falling free cash flow and an uncovered dividend. Therefore the overarching question is, what does Vodafone do with $115 billion?"
Verizon shares were up 0.45 percent Monday in premarket trading.