US telecoms giant AT&T has ruled out a multi billion pound bid for Vodafone.
Following months of speculation over a potential deal, shares in Vodafone sank 12.5p to 220p, or 5 per cent, after the UK Takeover Panel forced the second-largest mobile operator in the US to make its intentions plain.
Today it confirmed that “it does not intend to make an offer for Vodafone”.
AT&T’s move — which rules out a bid for Vodafone for at least six months unless a third party enters the fray — follows reports that the US company’s chief executive and chairman, Randall Stephenson, had discussed a possible takeover with EU Telecoms Commissioner Neelie Kroes at Davos.
Vodafone’s status as a FTSE big-hitter meant its decline accounted for around a third of the FTSE 100’s fall today. Analysts also predicted Vodafone — a staple of UK pension funds — could be in line for further pain despite an imminent windfall in March from the $130 billion (£78.5 billion) sale of its stake in Verizon Wireless, agreed last year.
Market speculation has linked Japan’s Softbank and China Mobile with interest in Vodafone.
However, Espirito Santo analyst Robert Grindle said: “There is a lot of expectation for a deal built into the share price. But emerging markets are around 25 per cent of the business and they are struggling.
"In the near term there is a big return of cash, but Vodafone needs to look at its investment strategy and investors need to look again at what has been left after the sale.”
Uncertainty remains over the shape of Vodafone’s German business where competition regulators are investigating KPN’s sale of operator E-Plus to Telefonica. Vodafone, under chief executive Vittorio Colao, is attempting to shake off the bid speculation with moves of its own including a broadband tie-up with BSkyB to challenge BT.
Reports today linked it to a £7 billion offer for Spanish broadband operator Ono as part of its European efforts. It has also been linked with deals in Italy as big firms snap up small rivals to combat low growth rates.
Meanwhile, Liberty Global, the US cable company chaired by American tycoon John Malone, has agreed to buy the 71.5 per cent of Dutch cable provider Ziggo it doesn’t already own for around €10 billion (£8.3 billion).
Liberty owns the other major Dutch player, UPC, and plans to merge them into a dominant cable firm, although the deal must be approved by regulators.