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Deutsche Telekom in UK unit sale talks

04 сентября 2009

Deutsche Telekom has started talks with the UK’s Vodafone, France Telecom, and Telefónica of Spain about selling T-Mobile UK, its flagging mobile phone unit.

People familiar with the situation said all three companies had shown interest in Deutsche Telekom’s subsidiary, although talks are understood to be at a preliminary stage.

“If we’re lucky, we could end up with a three-horse race,” said one person briefed about Deutsche Telekom’s plans, adding that an up-tick in the global economy and asset prices had raised hopes of earning €4bn ($5.7bn) for the sale of T-Mobile UK.

A merger between T-Mobile UK and France Telecom’s Orange UK is understood to be still on the table. The merger was an idea floated by the French group.

People on the German side said that significant progress could be made by mid to late-October, although other people close to the potential bidders said closing any deal would take longer.

Representatives of Deutsche Telekom and its three telecoms rivals declined to comment – as did a JPMorgan, the US bank that Deutsche Telekom hired to explore “strategic options” for T-Mobile UK this summer. Telecoms experts at the time valued Deutsche Telekom’s British subsidiary at €3bn-€4bn.

Since then asset prices have rallied amid signs that the global downturn is bottoming out.

Stung by the global recession and years of eroding profitability, René Obermann, Deutsche Telekom chief executive, this spring decided to sound out a sale of T-Mobile UK.

Mr Obermann also named new management in order to lift the unit’s performance.

Richard Moat, managing director of T-Mobile UK since June, said last month that he wanted to lift the company from fourth to third spot in the British market by luring pay-as-you-go customers onto monthly contracts.

The company currently has a market share of 14.9 per cent, according to research firm Enders Analysis, while Telefónica’s O2 unit has a 27.7 per cent share; Vodafone 24.7 per cent; and France Telecom’s Orange 21.5 per cent.

Raising T-Mobile UK’s performance is not only meant to make it more attractive to its three bigger rivals.

It could also allow Mr Obermann to cancel a sale and continue to operate the subsidiary if he deems any bids too low.

Mr Obermann is also under pressure to solve problems in the UK, a factor in a profit warning this spring.

Selling the UK unit or boosting its profitability would also free him up to address flagging growth at T-Mobile US.

Источник: Financial Times

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