Vodafone Group Plc has increased its efforts to gain control of French mobile operator SFR, despite making several statements over the past few weeks that indicated it was not overly concerned if it acquired control of the operator or not.
According to reports in the Financial Times, Vodafone has made a modest increase in its offer to both BT Group and cash-starved media giant, Vivendi Universal, to acquire their stakes in French telecoms operator Cegetel.
SFR is 80% controlled by Cegetel, in which Vivendi holds a 44% stake, and BT has 26%. Vodafone currently owns a 15% stake of Cegetel and SBC Communications
holds the remaining 15%.
According to the report in the FT, the new offer is understood to value BT Group’s 26% stake in Cegetel at more than 2.6 billion pounds ($4.03 billion). Vodafone has also relaxed a get-out clause that formed part of its original offer for Vivendi’s holding, in an attempt to allay concerns that Vodafone could easily withdraw from a deal. Last month, Vodafone tabled an offer to Vivendi, valuing its Cegetel stake between 4.1 billion euros ($4.02 billion) and 4.4 billion euros ($4.32 billion), depending on Vodafone’s share price.
However, Vivendi has yet to decide whether it wants to sell its stake in Cegetel or increase its holding. According to the FT, it has already made informal offers to SBC and BT for their stakes.
France is the only big European market where Vodafone does not have a controlling stake in its mobile operations. Talks between SBC Communications for its stake of Cegetel have made little progress, with the US group said to be holding out for a higher price.
Meanwhile, speculation in the French press that Vodafone might bid for the whole of Vivendi, to get its hands on Cegetel and hence SFR, caused Vivendi’s shares to jump almost 10%. French newspapers report that Vodafone is apparently losing patience in its efforts to buy Vivendi out and could launch a 16.3 billion euro ($16 billion) bid for the entire French conglomerate.