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Vodafone Ready to Start Talks on Selling 44% SFR Stake, Daily Mail Reports

Vodafone Group Plc, the world’s largest mobile-phone company, is ready to start talks to sell its 7 billion-pound ($11 billion) stake in SFR to Vivendi SA, the Daily Mail reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Discussions will begin over the next few weeks on the sale of Newbury, England-based Vodafone’s 44 percent holding in the French mobile-phone company, the newspaper reported. An agreement could be reached “quite quickly,” it said.

Paris-based Vivendi is unlikely to enter into talks to buy the British company’s stake in the mobile operator until next year, the French company’s Chief Executive Officer Jean-Bernard Levy said last month. Vodafone CEO Vittorio Colao has said he is reviewing the SFR stake’s future. Growth at the venture is slowing and France is preparing for the entry of a fourth mobile operator, discount broadband provider Iliad SA, in 2012.

Vodafone and Vivendi have both been interested in buying each other out of SFR since the French company paid 4 billion euros ($5.3 billion) in January 2003 to gain control of the company that owned SFR, trumping an offer from Vodafone. Arun Sarin, Colao’s predecessor, sought to buy the rest of SFR during his tenure between 2003 and 2008, with Vivendi refusing to sell.

Bobby Leach and Ben Padovan, spokesmen for Vodafone, did not respond to e-mails sent outside office hours, and Padovan could not be reached on his mobile-phone. An e-mail sent to Antoine Lefort, a spokesman for Vivendi, seeking comment on the report wasn’t answered.

Vodafone fell 1.9 percent, the most in a month, to 168.85 pounds in London trading yesterday. Vivendi rose 1.2 percent, the most in almost three weeks, to 20.77 euros in Paris trading.

Minority Interest Review

Colao, a former McKinsey & Co. partner, has said he’s reviewing all minority interests amid pressure from shareholders to squeeze more out of the investments. The company said last month is plans to sell securities in Japanese wireless operator Softbank Corp. for 3.1 billion pounds as part of its plans to hasten the disposal of minority assets to focus on data services and other growth areas.

In September, the company sold a stake in China Mobile Ltd. for $6.5 billion in the biggest divestment since Colao took charge. The CEO is also reviewing its stake in U.S. operator Verizon Wireless.

The British company hasn’t yet signaled that it’s ready to initiate a sale, Vivendi Chief Financial Officer Philippe Capron said on Nov. 15.

To contact the reporter on the story: Anand Krishnamoorthy in Singapore at anandk@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lars Klemming at lklemming@bloomberg.net

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