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Vodafone Said to Be Near Deal to Buy Cable & Wireless

Vodafone Said to Near Agreement to Acquire Cable & Wireless
A sign stands outside the headquarters of Cable & Wireless Worldwide Plc in Bracknell, U.K., on April 19, 2012. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Vodafone Group Plc is nearing an agreement to acquire Cable & Wireless Worldwide Plc, adding a U.K. fixed-line network to its mobile-phone system, according to people familiar with the situation.

The world’s largest wireless operator is offering about 35 pence to 39 pence a share, the people said, declining to be identified because the talks are private. Cable & Wireless closed at 32 pence in London on April 20, giving the company a market value of 879 million pounds ($1.4 billion). It has gained 62 percent since Vodafone publicly expressed interest Feb. 13.

Vodafone became the sole bidder for London-based Cable & Wireless after Tata Communications Ltd. last week failed to agree on a price and decided against making an offer. Newbury, England-based Vodafone is pursuing a European fixed-line acquisition for the first time since 2010, when it ended talks to buy Germany’s Kabel Deutschland Holding AG.

“Vodafone could benefit from a combination of revenue synergies, cost synergies and tax assets which together could be worth 1 billion pounds,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts led by Wilton Fry wrote in an April 20 note.

Representatives at Vodafone and Cable & Wireless declined to comment yesterday. Vodafone has until noon in London today to make a firm offer or walk away from the talks. The companies may still fail to reach an agreement, the people said.

Network Strain

Cable & Wireless shares may drop to about 22 pence if Vodafone walks away, acccording to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts.

The company, tracing its roots to 1866 when the first submarine cable across the Atlantic Ocean was laid, has holdings in more than 60 global cable systems. It also owns the largest U.K. fiber system for businesses, which Vodafone may use to relieve the strain of surging data traffic on its mobile-phone system.

Separated from its parent company in March 2010, Cable & Wireless was once worth 2.4 billion pounds. The stock has lost 65 percent of its value in the past two years. In November, the company suspended future dividend payments as sales fell in its traditional voice network.

Gavin Darby, a former Vodafone executive who replaced John Pluthero as Cable & Wireless’s chief executive officer in November, said Feb. 16 that he would rethink network investments in the U.K. and overseas. The company plans to simplify its business and management structure and cut more head office jobs, with “more significant, strategic decisions” due next month.

Vodafone fell 0.5 percent to 171.5 pence on April 20. The stock is down 4.1 percent this year on the London exchange.

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