Feb 15, 2023
Vodafone Is Exploring Options for $14 Billion African Unit
(Bloomberg) -- Vodafone Group Plc is exploring options for its African business as investors ramp up pressure on the UK telecom company to boost performance, people familiar with the matter said.
The London-listed firm is working with advisers to study ways to extract more value from its 65% holding in Vodacom Group Ltd., the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private. The early-stage considerations range from merging the business with other operators or divesting some assets in certain markets, to selling a stake in the company, the people said.
Shares in Vodacom rose as much as 10% on Thursday. The stock closed up 4.2% in Johannesburg, giving the company a market value of $14.9 billion. Vodafone closed up 2.3% in London, valuing it at £27.5 billion ($33.1 billion).
While Vodafone has always seen the African unit as a core part of the group, the exercise shows that it’s willing to study a wide range of alternatives as it casts around for a way to stem a decline in its shares. Billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc disclosed a 4.9% stake in Vodafone on Monday, joining other strategic investors French billionaire Xavier Niel and state-backed Emirates Telecommunications Group Co., formerly known as Etisalat and now called e&.
Read more: Liberty Bets on Vodafone Revival With Surprise 4.9% Stake
There’s no certainty the deliberations will lead to any transaction. A representative for the UK carrier said that Vodacom “is a strong business that is an important part of Vodafone” and there are no ongoing discussions about a potential sale. A representative for Vodacom declined to comment.
Etisalat, which is Vodafone’s largest shareholder, has been exploring a potential investment in Vodacom, Bloomberg News reported in December. It has been studying the possibility of buying Vodafone’s stake in Vodacom or merging its own African operations with Vodacom, people with knowledge of the matter said at the time. Vodafone’s holding in the African business may also attract interest from other bidders, according to the people.
Any combination with Etisalat would create the largest portfolio telco in Africa with little overlap outside of Egypt, analysts at New Street Research wrote in a note. But they said they did not believe there would be a bidding war for Vodafone’s stake. “We have not seen cross-border M&A for EM telcos for some time,” they wrote.
Vodafone has been selling assets and replaced its chief executive Nick Read late last year as it has come under attack from activist investors due to its poor performance. Last year, it sold a stake in Frankfurt-listed Vantage Towers AG unit to a private equity consortium in a deal valuing the business at €16.2 billion ($17.3 billion).
The British company has been consolidating its interests on the continent under Vodacom, which provides services in countries including South Africa, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Vodafone’s stake in Vodacom increased to 65% after it completed the sale of its Egyptian business to the the South African unit, according to a regulatory filing Monday.
--With assistance from Archana Narayanan, Dave Merrill, Thomas Seal and Henry Ren.
(Updates shares in third paragraph, adds analyst comments in seventh paragraph.)
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