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Verizon presses Vodafone to leave venture

27 июня 2008

Verizon Communications has stepped up the pressure on Vodafone to sell out of Verizon Wireless, their mobile joint venture, saying that the second largest US telecoms company intends to be “the hunter” in future industry consolidation.

Ivan Seidenberg, chief executive of Verizon Communications, owner of 55 per cent of Verizon Wireless, told the Financial Times he would like full ownership of the US mobile operator.

It follows almost two years in which both groups have played down the prospect of ownership changes at Verizon Wireless after a failed effort in 2006 by Verizon Communications to buy its UK partner’s 45 per cent stake.

It also comes as Arun Sarin, Vodafone’s chief executive, is about to hand over to Vittorio Colao next month.

Mr Seidenberg cautioned against the idea of Vodafone selling its Verizon Wireless stake in the near-term but noted Mr Colao’s impending promotion, saying: “Maybe he’ll want to do something different.”

The relationship between Verizon Communications and Vodafone, the world’s largest mobile operator by revenue, has suffered from periodic tensions since the pair pooled their US wireless assets in 2000.

Mr Seidenberg, emphasising how Verizon Communications decided the operating strategy of Verizon Wireless, said in an interview in London: “Would I like to have 100 per cent of the earnings given we’re doing 100 per cent of the work? Yeah, I would.

“Vodafone’s been a great partner,” he said.

“So the out has to come when Vodafone comes and says, ‘Hey, we’d like to change our ownership level’. And when and if they do that, they know how to find me.”

Analysts estimate that the value of Vodafone’s stake has increased by $10bn to about $60bn in the past two years.

Verizon Wireless is set to become the largest US mobile operator after agreeing a $28.1bn deal this month to buy Alltel, a smaller wireless business.

Mr Seidenberg revealed that Mr Sarin had wanted Verizon Wireless to purchase Alltel last year when it was bought by the Texas Pacific Group and the private equity arm of investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Verizon Communications, whose representatives have a majority of the seats on the Verizon Wireless board, decided against getting into a bidding war with private equity.

Mr Seidenberg stressed that his company had the final say over when Verizon Wireless would resume dividend payments, a source of contention for some Vodafone investors.

However, he said that net debt did not necessarily have to reach zero before any payments could be made.

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