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F Telecom threatens to end Nordic bid

09 июня 2008

France Telecom yesterday warned it would walk away from its proposed €26.5bn ($41.6bn) takeover of TeliaSonera unless the Nordic operator rapidly signalled its interest in a tie-up.

Gervais Pellissier, France Telecom's finance director, said the former monopoly could withdraw its offer if its share price "started to plunge" amid continuing uncertainty over a deal.

France Telecom launched its cash-and-shares bid on Thursday, but it was rejected as too low by TeliaSonera's board and the Swedish government, which owns 37 per cent of the Swedish-Finnish operator.

France Telecom's shares fell nearly 8 per cent in the ensuing two days, as investors reacted coolly to the company's claimed logic for creating the tie-up.

It gave TeliaSonera two weeks to consider the offer, but Mr Pellissier suggested it could be withdrawn sooner if France Telecom's share price remained under pressure.

"Without a friendly signal from their side, the deal would be difficult because unstable markets do not like uncertainty," Mr Pellissier told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

However, behind the Franco-Swedish stand-off, there could be room for a negotiation. France Telecom has ruled out improving its offer and its room for manoeuvre is limited by its promise not to exceed a net debt to gross operating profit ratio of 2.5.

But according to analysts at Exane BNP Paribas on Friday, France Telecom could raise its offer to Skr60 from the original Skr56.22 by proposing Skr70 in cash, up from Skr63, and extending the cash part of the deal from 52 per cent to 57 per cent. This would stretch its debt ratio to 2.6.

A combined offer of Skr60 may fall short of Swedish government expectations, but TeliaSonera's share price is bound to fall back if France Telecom abandons its bid.

However, the Swedish government is in no mood to be rushed into a deal, not least because 1m Swedes bought shares in the company for Skr85 in 2000 during the internet bubble.

The Swedish government is looking for an offer worth at least SKr60, although, according to one senior banker, it wants a figure in the high-60s. There is also resentment in
Stockholm because of a perception that France Telecom is trying to bounce the Swedes into a deal, having given TeliaSonera only a few hours notice before revealing its offer.

France Telecom says key details had been leaked and it would have been forced to go public by the French stock market regulator.

With the sale this year of Vin & Sprit, the drinks company, to Pernod Ricard for Skr55bn ($9.3bn), the government is on track to meet its target of privatising assets worth Skr200bn, according to a senior government figure.

Источник: Financial Times

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