BT stands by MCI

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BT and MCI will this week hatch plans to present a united front in a bid to reconcile conflicting interests of US arbitrageurs and UK institutional investors.

British investors have been pressing BT to renegotiate the terms of its pounds 20bn acquisition of MCI in the wake of its surprise announcement earlier this month that it is incurring huge losses in its attempts to penetrate the local US telephone market.

US arbitrageurs, meanwhile, are exposed to multi-billion dollar losses if BT offers MCI reduced terms. They have been exploiting price differentials between BT and MCI shares in an attempt to lock in profits if the deal goes ahead as agreed.

The two companies are concerned that the opposed agendas of the two sets of investors is souring attempts to resolve the difficulties.

Sir Peter Bonfield, BT chief executive, flies to MCI's Washington DC headquarters on Thursday. He and MCI chief Gerald Taylor jointly head the "task force" investigating problems at the US telecoms giant. He will reassure MCI of BT's commitment to make the merger work.

MCI personnel have been bruised by press reports suggesting that BT holds MCI accountable for the failure to crack the local markets.

Sir Peter, however, says the problems have made the companies closer. He telephoned two senior MCI executives personally last week to tell them there was no truth in reports that BT would be seeking their resignations. The message of co-operation rather than confrontation will be reinforced in Washington this week.

Sir Peter is supported by Sir Iain Vallance, BT's chairman, who gave a ringing endorsement of MCI at last week's agm.