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Vodafone and Hutchison to merge in Australia

10 февраля 2009

Vodafone, of the UK, and Hutchison Whampoa, of Hong Kong, announced on Monday plans to merge their Australian mobile phone operations, in a move that should enable the combined business to better compete with local rivals.

Hutchison is not ruling out similar deals involving its lossmaking European mobile businesses, according to people familiar with the company, although they said that no transactions were imminent.

Analysts said Hutchison’s UK mobile business was a likely candidate to merge with T-Mobile, which is owned by Deutsche Telekom.

Vodafone and Hutchison Whampoa have the third and fourth largest mobile businesses in Australia, and both are sub scale compared to Telstra and SingTel, the market leaders.

By merging their Australian operations, the 50:50 joint venture between Vodafone and Hutchison will have a market share of 26 per cent, compared to 32 per cent for SingTel and 42 per cent for Telstra.

The combined business will have 6m customers and annual revenue of A$4bn (US$2.7bn), and will use Vodafone’s brand.

Vodafone will receive a A$500m payment under the transaction’s terms because its Australian business is bigger than Hutchison’s.

Vittorio Colao, Vodafone’s chief executive, said: “This transaction will benefit customers in Australia as it creates a company with the necessary scale to compete strongly in the mobile market.”

It is Mr Colao’s first significant transaction since becoming chief executive of Vodafone in July. In November, he said Vodafone would for the first time support “in-market consolidation” between mobile operators in particular countries.

Such consolidation should ease the price wars between mobile operators, and so enhance profitability.

Vodafone blamed a poor performance by its Australian business for a 25 per cent fall in operating profit at its Pacific operations in the six months to September 30.

Hutchison’s group of mobile businesses based on third-generation wireless technology, which include Australia, Italy and the UK, has yet to generate an operating profit.

The 3G businesses reported a loss before interest and tax of HK$3.2bn in the first half of 2008, although that was a 72 per cent improvement on the same period in 2007. The Australian business reported earnings before interest and tax of A$1.3m in the first half of 2008.

The merger plans have to be approved by competition authorities.

The companies said the merger should generate cost savings with a net present value of A$2bn, and analysts at JPMorgan estimated the combined business should see its profit margins improve by 5 percentage points to 22 per cent.

The analysts said Hutchison was likely to exit the joint venture in the medium term, adding that the transaction, from the company’s European perspective, may “signal that they see little future in continuing to go it alone”.

Источник: Financial Times

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