Vodafone confirms late-stage talks with Verizon

Vodafone says it is in advanced talks to sell back Verizon stake for $130 billion

Associated Press
Vodafone confirms late-stage talks with Verizon
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FILE - A Tuesday, May 19, 2009 photo from files showing people walking by a branch of Vodafone in central London. Britain's Vodafone PLC, one of the world's largest mobile phone companies, confirmed Thursday that it was in discussions with Verizon Communications to sell its operations in the United States. The British wireless provider is mulling its options for its 45 percent stake in the U.S.'s Verizon Wireless, of which Verizon Communications owns the other 55 percent. Analysts have suggested that Verizon wants to pay around $100 billion for Vodafone’s stake, although reports have said that U.K. group is pressing for as much as $130 billion. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, File)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Vodafone says it is in advanced talks to sell its 45 percent stake of Verizon Wireless back to the U.S. cellphone service provider for $130 billion in cash and stock, a deal which would be the second-largest acquisition deal on record if it goes through.

If an agreement is reached, Verizon would own its wireless business outright after buying the stake back from British cellphone company Vodafone PLC.

Vodafone said in a statement on Sunday there is no certainty that a final deal will be reached. Verizon Communications Inc. declined to comment.

The buyout, if finalized, would be second only to Vodafone's $172 billion acquisition of Mannesmann AG in 2000, according to research firm Dealogic.

It would give Vodafone PLC additional cash to pursue its expansion ambitions in Europe. It would also give Verizon Communications the opportunity to boost its quarterly earnings, as it would no longer have to share a portion of proceeds from the nation's No. 1 wireless carrier with Vodafone.

The potential deal isn't expected to have much of an effect on Verizon consumers or on the company's operations. Vodafone had little influence on Verizon Wireless' day-to-day operations, and the two companies have kept out of each other's territory.

The Verizon-Vodafone partnership started in 2000, when what was then Bell Atlantic combined its East Coast wireless network with Vodafone's operations on the West Coast. Vodafone had entered the U.S. market a year earlier by outbidding Bell Atlantic to buy AirTouch Communications Inc. of San Francisco.

Verizon has had a long-standing interest in buying out its partner, but the two companies haven't agreed on a price. Analysts said Verizon wanted to pay around $100 billion for Vodafone's stake, while Vodafone has been pressing for $130 billion.

Vodafone is already one of the world's largest cellphone companies and has its sights set on dominating media services in Europe, its biggest market. The company is making a takeover bid for Germany's biggest cable operator, Kabel Deutschland.

The talks come amid a changing telecommunications landscape in the U.S. The wireless business has been lucrative for Verizon Communications as traditional landline services decline. But the company faces growing competition in a saturated market. No. 4 T-Mobile US Inc., for instance, is making a resurgence after shattering industry conventions, including two-year service contracts.

In the April-to-June quarter, Verizon Wireless added 941,000 devices to its contract-based plans, exceeding analyst estimates and continuing a strong run. It boosted service revenue by 8.3 percent from a year ago. Its closest rival, AT&T, is seeing revenue increases of around 4 percent.

But almost all of Verizon's gains on the wireless side resulted from customers upgrading to higher-priced plans or adding more devices to their existing plans, rather than an influx of new customers.

Meanwhile, No. 3 wireless company Sprint Corp. received a $21.6 billion investment from SoftBank Corp. in July, giving the Japanese investment firm a 78 percent stake. T-Mobile grew larger through a merger with smaller rival MetroPCS on April 30.

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