David Prosser: The best way to ring in the changes

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The Independent Online

Outlook Radio (and telephone) silence so far from Vodafone and O2 over the deal between Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom to merge their UK operations. Both are threatened by the combination of T-Mobile and Orange leapfrogging them and both are thought to have offered Deutsche cash for the former business. Yet neither seems to be prepared to come up with a higher offer in order to break up the party.

Is it a case of can't rather than won't? While M&A advisers are quietly daring to hope that deal activity is on the verge of picking up, credit markets remain cautious about lending and shareholders reluctant to participate in what might be deemed to be unnecessary rights issues.

Indeed, this deal may be the shape of things to come – at least in the short to medium term – for consolidation of Europe's mobile telecoms market. Since France Telecom's abortive bid for TeliaSonera last year, there has been little talk of mega deals in the sector. Consolidation makes sense, but the cost of outright takeovers is high – Deutsche is though to have turned down bids of £4bn plus for T-Mobile UK.

That bidders aren't prepared to go higher tells you something about cautious boardroom minds and the ability to raise cash. After all, the net present value of the savings Vodafone, O2 – and now Orange – could make from T-Mobile come in, on some estimates, at more than £3bn.

In the absence of a viable takeover model, expect to see more joint ventures across the continent. Having tried network sharing deals, which save some money, but don't produce the full synergies of a merger, this sort of deal is the sensible next step for Europe's telecoms operators.

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