Vodafone CEO Says Liberty May Be Good Fit for ‘Right Price’

Vittorio Colao
Vodafone Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Vittorio Colao. Photographer: Antonio Heredia/Bloomberg

Vodafone Group Plc Chief Executive Officer Vittorio Colao, asked today whether John Malone’s Liberty Global Plc might be a good fit for the U.K. wireless carrier, said he would consider it “for the right price.”

Colao made the comments in a brief interview with Bloomberg News after making a presentation to investors at a conference organized by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in New York. Goldman analyst Tim Boddy, citing the closed-door presentation, said in a note that Vodafone may consider a “transformational” M&A deal in “the longer term.”

Vodafone, the second-largest mobile-phone carrier by subscribers, spent the past two years acquiring cable and broadband providers in Germany and Spain to help stem declining wireless service revenue. That has put more pressure on Liberty Global, which owns cable assets in Vodafone’s European markets including Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands.

Liberty Global jumped 4.2 percent to $43.86 at the close today in New York, the biggest gain since February. The London-based company ended the day with a market value of $33.2 billion. Including debt, the cable company’s enterprise value is almost $74 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Vodafone, based in Newbury, England, fell as much as 2.7 percent. It closed 0.8 percent lower at 203.45 pence in London, valuing the carrier at 53.9 billion pounds ($87.5 billion).

Marcus Smith, a Liberty Global spokesman, declined to comment.

Capacity Boost

As more consumers download and watch videos on smartphones and tablets, putting strain on carriers’ networks, Vodafone is adding faster mobile technology and broadband Internet lines -- spending a total of 19 billion pounds through March 2016 -- in a network-improvement plan called Project Spring. The investment is funded with cash from the sale of its stake in Verizon Wireless for $130 billion.

Colao is “optimistic that a stronger Vodafone post Project Spring in a consolidated European market would be in a better position to engage in M&A,” Goldman’s Boddy wrote.

Liberty and Vodafone have competed for cable assets in Europe. Vodafone beat out Liberty with a 10.5 billion-euro bid ($13.6 billion) for Germany’s Kabel Deutschland Holding AG last year. Vodafone went on to buy Spanish broadband company Grupo Corporativo Ono SA in March for 7.2 billion euros.

Liberty agreed to buy Dutch cable operator Ziggo NV for 4.9 billion euros in January and a stake in ITV Plc, the U.K.’s biggest commercial broadcaster, in July.

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